Ahead of the release of GT Sport on PS4 later this month, we had the chance to speak with 2015 Nissan GT Academy winner Matt Simmons about his experiences with the Gran Tursimo series. 

How did you get into gaming in the first place?

Matt Simmons: “When I was a kid I loved racing, and I loved watching it, and being able to hop onto the PlayStation and play racing games was the closes thing I could get to the real thing at the time. It really cemented my passion, and as gaming progressed and technology advanced it just got closer to the real deal. The connection for me just got stronger through gaming.”

So you watched a lot of racing growing up, then?

MS: “Yeah, that’s how I got my love of motorsport. I think one of the first races I ever watched was the Bathurst 1000 when I was a young kid, and I just remember watching it and my whole life kinda spaced out – I was so captivated by what they were doing. And then getting up every Monday morning before school and watching the old SBS live in Europe and cheering on Mark Webber, like most Aussie kids used to do back in the day, it just made my dream to want to be a racing driver so much stronger.”

How has the Gran Turismo series changed since you started playing it?

MS: “Kazunori [Yamauchi, head of Polyphony Digital] has captured the way that gaming has progressed. He’s always pioneering the next step in gaming and in racing. You always wait for him to release a new game to see where the industry is at, and that’s always been the most exciting part for me. Each time there’s been a new development in the game you’re excited to get on and try it out with your friends. I just really feel like Kazunori with Gran Turismo has always captured that throughout the decades that it’s been running. He’s done a great job.

“He’s always pioneering the next step in gaming and in racing.”

Can you quickly tell us the process you went through during your time at the GT Academy?

MS: “It was only two years ago now, but it does feel like a lifetime now with how much I’ve been able to do. For me, it was way back in 2008 that GT Academy first caught my eye, and I was really keen about the whole concept, and obviously it grew with the amount of people that were watching and what people that were in it were achieving. It came to Australia in 2014 and I felt it was my chance and that I could finally make my dream come true – but it didn’t work out, I just wasn’t at that level to get to the international stage. So, from there I changed my whole life and got myself ready as redemption, in a way, and left no stone unturned. I was lucky enough to get through to the international stage and then ultimately changed my life, and am now racing as a professional for Nissan. It’s pretty amazing what you can achieve nowadays with gaming and technology.”

Can you explain a little bit more the international race camp – the second stage of the Academy?

MS: “It’s with 30 individuals – so six from each country. The whole week you go through challenges of racing in different cars. You’re always trying to get something new out of it. It’s a high-pressure situation – you don’t have time to practise or anything like that, you’re put in situations to adapt, and see who can handle the pressure best and come out on top. Fortunately, I was able to get through each stage to the point where I made it to the final race and was the last one standing for Australia. I ended up going through an eventful eight-lap race where I got to experience all the emotions professional drivers do – we had a mechanical failure and some hard racing, and it was really cool to get amongst it and showcase h=just how much I had learnt in that week in Silverstone alone. Fortunately with that in mind the judges thought I was the best pick to carry on and develop a racing career, which was really cool. It’s pretty full on, and it’s not something that I take for granted.

“…it’s not something that I take for granted.”

What are some of the events you get to attend since winning the Academy?

MS: “Just the general events of going to racing events and being a driver still classify as one of the coolest things I get to do. Just being a pro racing driver is really cool; I get to go to some car launches, and with gaming too equally being a part of GT Sport. Now being able to be an ambassador to the new game coming into Australia is pretty special. To be able to pioneer what’s possible with GT Sport in the future and being a part of the whole launch is pretty spectacular.

What’s one of the best cars you’ve been able to drive as a result of working so closely with Gran Turismo?

MS: “One of the coolest things I got to do I think was this year at Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK – it’s a really big event that showcases racing and cars across their whole lifespan. I got to drive a Nissan GT-R up the Goodwood Festival Hill in the Supercar Challenge and that was just unreal, something that you would only dream of doing. That was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I didn’t crash and enjoyed the experience so that’s the main thing.”

How important is your relationship with Nissan?

MS: “It’s one thing racing for them, but then also being able to represent Nissan off the track – I get to do a lot of cool things with them. They’re really engaging with motorsport and with the fans, so I enjoy what they have to offer and what we’ve been able to achieve in these last couple of years. I look forward to future projects that’ll be happening in Australia and look forward to being a prt of it all.”

Finally, what’s your advice to anyone who wants to follow your footsteps?

MS: “Try everything, and just make sure you don’t give up. You can have setbacks, and I think I was a prime example of that. You can have times where it doesn’t feel like it’s working, but as long as you have your abilities and you know what you’re capable of and you’re willing to try as hard as possible to make that happen then that’s all you can ask of yourself. That’s the biggest thing – just believe in yourself.”

GT Sport launches October 18 exclusively on PS4