Nissan GT ACADEMY winner, Ricardo Sánchez, recently showed legendary comedian and renowned car enthusiast, Jay Leno, just how well the PlayStation racing game Gran Turismo translates to on-track skill in an appearance on Jay Leno’s Garage.

In 2014, the Mexican driver beat out 100,000 of his fellow countrymen, as well as hopefuls from five other regions, to become the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy International Winner. As a Nismo athlete, Sánchez has since gone on to compete at the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and in the Pirelli World Challenge series in the United States.

Despite having never been to the demanding Big Willow circuit at the Willow Springs complex in the Californian desert, Sánchez was on pace immediately in the Nissan GT-R Nismo thanks to practice laps on Gran Turismo.

Leno was initially doubtful of how well the virtual track-driving would translate to real life. However, his fears were quickly put to rest as Sánchez hit his marks perfectly and didn’t put a wheel wrong over the course of the day.

Introducing the day, Leno said, “Ricardo has virtually raced here hundreds of times, but we’re going to see exactly how Gran Turismo training factors into real life driving. Let’s stop dreaming and drive this thing.”

“You know, he’s awful confident,” began Leno of his first passenger ride around Big Willow with Sánchez at the wheel of the Nissan GT-R, “considering that he’s never been here before”. In fact, initially, Leno could barely contain his fear and spent many of the early laps smiling and laughing nervously, swallowing hard and clutching the door handle as the fearsome GT-R Nismo stormed around the circuit. But eventually, Leno recognised that Sánchez’s talent on the PlayStation had indeed transferred to the real world as the smooth Mexican driver hustled the hardcore 441kW Nissan GT-R Nismo around the bumpy and demanding circuit. “Very nice,” said Leno, clapping his approval.

With his cynicism melting away, Leno became curious as to how virtual driving helped Sánchez immediately get on pace at a circuit he’d never seen before.

“So what did you learn from playing Willow Springs on Gran Turismo?” asked a much more relaxed Jay Leno.
“This is my first time at this track,” explained Sánchez, “and it’s the same as on the game. The kerbs, the run-off, the braking references, everything.”

Wanting a deeper understanding of how Nissan has been able to harness the power of Gran Turismo in real driving, Leno asked, “Do you ever push a car in real life as hard as you push a car in the game?”

Showing the maturity and experience of someone who’s competed on some of the biggest stages in the motorsport world, Sánchez responded, “In real life you go a bit under of course. Because if you make one mistake it’s going to be a hard one. There’s no reset button, it’s just hit the wall and that’s it.”

The 28-year-old Sánchez was always into motorsport and was a competitive kart racer by the time he was 14. But it was the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy that gave him his shot at a motorsport career. After winning the 2014 GT Academy, Sánchez undertook three months of intensive driving tuition to gain his international racing licence and to become familiar with the rigours of real racing, including the physical demands placed on your body. At the 2015 Dubai 24-hour enduro, Sánchez piloted a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 to second in class and fifth outright.