Car racers are a video game staple, allowing armchair drivers to get behind the wheels of the world's highest-performance virtual vehicles. The latest games are so realistic they can serve as a pathway to a real-life professional racing career. Jann Mardenborough followed just such a path, and in a different coming together of video games and real life, has remotely driven an actual Nissan GT-R at speeds of up to 211 km/h (131 mph) using a PlayStation DualShock 4 controller.
Since taking out the GT Academy in 2011, Mardenborough has gone on to become a full-time professional driver for Nissan in Japan. But he recently proved he still knows his way around a game controller, remotely piloting a one-off "GT-R /C" around Silverstone's National Circuit from the cockpit of a helicopter that followed overhead. Obviously having a ball, Mardenborough didn't hold back, averaging 122 km/h (76 mph), reaching a top speed of 211 km/h (131 mph) and clocking a lap of 1:17:47.
As you might expect, converting a car to DualShock4 control is no easy task. The extensive modifications to the car included four robots operating the steering, transmission, brakes and throttle. The DualShock4 controller itself was unmodified, but was connected to microcomputer that translated joystick and button inputs into instructions for the on-car robots. Rather than standard Bluetooth, these instructions were sent via a wireless system with a range of 1 km (0.6 mi) to six computers mounted in the rear of the vehicle that updated the robots' movements up to 100 times a second.
In case Mardenborough's wireless connection was lost, the car was also fitted with two independent safety systems that allowed two additional operators to slam on the ABS brakes and cut power to the engine if need be. These systems were also linked to the car wirelessly, but operated on different radio frequencies for the sake of redundancy.
"This was once-in-a-lifetime, truly epic stuff," said Mardenborough. "The GT-R /C has brought my two worlds together – the virtual of gaming and the reality of motorsport – in a way I never thought possible. The response from the car when using the controller was far more engaging than I thought it would be. JLB Design has done an incredible job at making everything respond really well. Steering, acceleration and braking were all intelligently configured, allowing for controlled application so I could really get a feel through the corners and hold it steady down the fast straights. Driving a full-size, remote-control GT-R to 131 mph at Silverstone whilst chasing it down in a helicopter was an unforgettable experience. Now that's innovation that excites!"
The stunt was to promote the upcoming release of Gran Turismo Sport for PS4, but the car will also tour primary and secondary schools across the UK next year to promote careers in STEM subjects.
Check out Mardenborough driving the GT-R /C via remote control in the video below.