Nissan and Sony have announced plans for the return of the GT Academy, turning successful participants from “virtual racers” to “real racers”.

The competition will launch on 17 December using the new Gran Turismo 5 game on the Playstation Network, with the ultimate prize being that of a season-long drive in a full race-spec Nissan 370Z in the European GT4 Cup.

Launched in 2008 the GT Academy took Lucas Ordoñez, a 23-year-old student from being an armchair racer on his Playstation to a race driver in 2009 with Nissan.

Debuting at the Dubai 24 Hour race alongside Johnny Herbert, Lucas teamed-up with Alex Buncombe in a Nissan 350Z, driving for RJN Motorsport. Taking part in the full European GT4 season their stunning performances included two race wins and two second-place finishes, finishing the season an overall second place in the drivers championship, plus taking the team championship along the way.

The new Academy kicks off this month and will take place over a number of stages:

Stage One – will offer Gran Turismo fans a sneak preview of the hotly-anticipated Gran Turismo 5 game, due for release during 2010. Competitors will record flying laps on a time trial-based track available via PlayStation®Network, accessed through PS3. Unlike the first GT Academy, participants will not have to enter the competition using the GT5 PrologueTM game itself, and so even more hopeful racing drivers are expected to take part.

Stage Two – the holders of the twenty fastest online lap times from each participating country will qualify for theirnational final event. Tensions will run high as they battle each other on another exclusive Gran Turismo 5 level for the chance to move to the next phase of the competition.

Stage Three – twenty finalists, chosen from each of the national finals events, will head to the world famous Silverstone circuit for the GT Academy itself – a five-day, comprehensive race driver 'boot camp'. They will have a chance to develop new driving skills in an array of Nissan, and other, hardware, while also being judged on fitness and mental attitude.

Stage Four – For the two competitors that display the talent, fitness, aptitude, drive and determination to succeed in motor sport, the action will hot-up even further. A UK-based intensive driving and racing programme will prepare them to qualify for an international racing license.

Stage Five – There is only one place available for the driver with the most potential to compete on an international stage. The overall GT Academy 2010 champion will race a full season in the European GT4 Cup in a Nissan 370Z prepared by RJN Motorsport. The opening race is currently scheduled for May, 2010.

For those of you who want to find out more about GT Academy, head along to http://www.facebook.com/GTAcademy or http://eu.gran-turismo.com