Age:

31

Region:

NorCal

Hometown:

Fresno, CA

Racing Class:

HPDE and PTE/E3

Sponsors:

Nissan Motorsports

Day Job:

Professional International Racecar Driver

Favorite Food:

Mexican

Favorite TV Show:

Anything with racing

Favorite Movie:

Gran Torino

Favorite Book:

The Art of Racing in the Rain

 

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A lot of NASA racers spend their offseason on the couch banging fenders online while playing racing video games with their friends. Bryan Heitkotter took his racing video game hobby to a whole new level when he began to play Sony’s Playstation 3 Gran Turismo 5 competitively online — and ended up racing for Nissan Motorsports at the 24 Hours of Dubai.

It’s true. The next time your mom or your wife tells you to “stop playing those stupid video games!” remind her of the name Bryan Heitkotter. Bryan went from being a NASA HPDE driver with dreams of racing professionally to earning his FIA international racing license, carving corners at Silverstone in the U.K. And his success can be credited to one of those “stupid video games.”

In 2011, Heitkotter set up a small driving simulator in his living room and began to play Gran Turismo 5 online. Sony announced a GT 5 contest that would rank drivers across the country, with the top drivers having a chance to drive a real racecar. The best eight drivers from four regions of the United States would face off in Florida with a chance to go to Europe for the filming of the reality television show GT Academy. Heitkotter qualified in the western region, went to Florida and won the tournament overall. Then he and 15 other gamers headed to Silverstone to see if what they could do in a video game would translate to the real world, on real tracks and at real speeds.

While in England, Heitkotter and his GT Academy classmates endured a racing hell week of physical conditioning, karting, rallycross, open-wheel racing, and finally a winner-take-all, heads-up road race to see who would become the champion. “It was honestly the hardest week of my life,” said Heitkotter. As five episodes of the show aired on SPEED, friends and family in the U.S. could watch as Heitkotter’s classmates were cut one by one by the three celebrity hosts: Trans-Am champion Tommy Kendall, Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan and Le Mans driver Liz Halliday. Heitkotter’s consistent driving kept him “in the game” and when the checkered flag fell, he had raced from playing video games on his couch all the way across the pond to win at Silverstone in a Nissan 370Z — a dream any NASA member would love to see come true.

After the show was over, Heitkotter was on the Nissan Motorsports driver’s roster and began competing at tracks all over England and Wales. Heitkotter picked up some wins driving for RJN Motorsports in its race prepped 370Zs. After earning his FIA license, he and other GT Academy winners took on the 24 Hours of Dubai and earned a podium finish. From there Heitkotter continued his rocket-ship racing career and competed in Grand-Am’s Continental Tire Series at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Brickyard 400 weekend. At Indy he picked up a pole position in GS driving a Nissan 370Z for Doran Racing. From there he raced in World Challenge at Sonoma in another Nissan 370Z. He is so busy traveling around the globe, driving racecars and making appearances for Nissan and GT Academy, he hardly has time to play video games anymore.

Even though his career now bounces him from one pro series to the next, from Grand-Am to World Challenge as well as professional European series, Heitkotter’s next event on his racing calendar is to come back to where he first started on a real race track, with NASA at Thunderhill. Heitkotter will be driving for the Nissan Motorsports/Krider Racing two-car effort during this year’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill presented by the United States Air Force.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been to Thunderhill,” Heitkotter said. “Unfortunately, it’s not one of the tracks on Gran Turismo. If it was, I’d be learning the track right now.”

After 25 hours of racing, no doubt he will know it by the end.

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GT Academy is viewable online. To check out the first American season of the show, click here to watch Heitkotter conquer Season 1: http://www.nissanusa.com/gtacademyshow/the-show

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Images courtesy of Bryan Heitkotter and Matthew Funk