The ADAC GT Masters grid could hardly be a more eclectic mix of ex-Formula 1 stars and former DTM drivers lining up alongside GT pros, budding young talent and some speedy amateurs. But few drivers in the Super Sports Car League can look back on a racing career that is as unusual as that of Berlin-based Florian Strauss. 18 months after giving up his job as manager at a car hire showroom, and not even in possession of his own helmet or a racing licence, Strauss won the 12 Hours of Bathurst in Australia six weeks ago and has now been recruited by MRS GT Racing to drive a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 in the forthcoming ADAC GT Masters.
This unconventional entry to motorsport was facilitated by the Nissan GT Academy which identifies talented drivers from skills displayed in video gaming. The Nissan GT Academy selects promising drivers via the Playstation console, using the Gran Turismo game. Strauss took part in the 2012 competition and made it through to the final 30. Inspired by this result, he had another crack in 2013.
Progressing through the German regional finals, which coincided with the ADAC GT Masters weekend at the Lausitzring, Strauss made it into the last eight of a field of 60,000 entrants and was invited to contest the title in the grand finale at Silverstone. Strauss won't forget that occasion in a hurry, as the knockout round of four took place in a downpour. In adverse conditions, Strauss dominated the race and won the competition. "It's just amazing, like a dream come true," he said of his triumph at the time.
The reward for all this hard work was an intensive course of driver training in the UK and a seat in a Nissan 370Z for the 24 Hours of Dubai 2014, where he promptly posted a class victory. Nissan then entered him for the Blancpain Endurance Series driving a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3, and on only his second outing at Silverstone, he celebrated yet another class victory. The highlight then followed in the ADAC Zurich 24-hour race at the Nürburgring in which Strauss shared the cockpit of a factory Nissan GT3 with ex-Formula 1 driver Nick Heidfeld in the top class. His performance won praise, including from his illustrious co-driver.
Strauss got his 2015 season off to another impressive start. In the 24 Hours of Dubai, he finished in second place in the Pro-Am GT3 class in his GT3 Nissan, as well as finishing fifth overall in the general classification. His biggest breakthrough to date was then aided by a large slice of luck. In the 12 Hours of Bathurst, he stepped in at short notice for British ace Alex Buncombe whose wife was due to give birth. Strauss took over the vacant cockpit and claimed his first overall victory ahead of a strong international field.
"In the last 18 months since winning the GT Academy, my career has gone from strength to strength," says Strauss. "Clearly, the overall victory in the 12-hour race at Bathurst is by far the biggest coup so far. Firstly, because it is one of the most beautiful and spectacular racetracks in the world, and it makes me extremely proud to have got the Nissan name back on the winners list after a 23-year absence. And secondly, I've put in the best performance of my career to date."
Strauss is now preparing for his debut season in the ADAC GT Masters: a new series, a new team and a new format. "The ADAC GT Masters is one of the most popular GT championships. I'm especially looking forward to the circuits in Germany and neighbouring countries. The format with two sprint races is a new challenge and promises plenty of exciting wheel-to-wheel action and competitive racing."
"It's difficult to assess how good our chances are, not least because this will be the first time that a GT-R has contested a full season in the series, but also because we are not the only ones to have had updates on our car this year."
Neither Strauss nor the GT-R has competed at some of the eight venues on the Super Sports Car League itinerary before, which means it is very much terra incognita for both. The Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 comes into its own on fast and flowing track layouts. Circuits such as the Red Bull Ring, Spa-Francorchamps and Zandvoort are especially suited to 'Godzilla' (the nickname given to the GT-R).
"Nissan and the GT Academy have boosted my experience in a relatively short time," says Strauss looking ahead to the campaign. "However, there is still a tremendous scope for further improvement and for raising my game. The ADAC GT Masters is the perfect environment to measure myself against the best in GT racing and improve my performance. 2015 has got off to a phenomenal start, and I'm obviously hoping for some good results this year." This particular Berliner has come a truly amazing distance in a very short time - and there is more to come.