Bryan Heitkotter Takes Unique Path from Video Game Racer to PWC GT Race Winner with Nissan
Fresno Driver goes from Nissan GT Academy to Pro Road Racer
In 2010, Bryan Heitkotter was without a race car to drive and even without a job. His auto parts delivery position had been eliminated.
At age 30, the Fresno, Calif., racer looked for another avenue to pursue his motorsports passion. It wasn’t conventional but it was an opportunity.
Heitkotter entered the Nissan GT Academy competition featuring over 50,000 players in the Gran Turismo video action for aspiring racers to battle in real “on-track” racing of Nissan sports cars.
After the online gaming qualifying, Bryan was one of 16 finalists to compete in England and became the first to win the coveted Red Helmet as the 2011 Nissan PlayStation® GT Academy U.S. Winner.
“That was the paramount moment of my entire racing experience thus far because it represented the realization of my lifelong dream of becoming a professional racecar driver,” said Heitkotter, who now drives the No. 05 AE Replay XD GT Academy NISMO Nissan GT-R GT3 sports car in the Pirelli World Challenge. “I was 11 years old, and my parents had some old PC. And the first racing game I played was Indianapolis 500. I loved it – I even raced a couple full 500 mile distances, just using keyboard controls. I’ve been hooked on racing games ever since.”
Heitkotter, 35, took his video and racing passions to the next level when Gran Turismo was released for PlayStation in 1997.
“Gran Turismo took game realism to a new level, and it was addicting,” he admits. “Compared to what I had before, it felt like real driving. There were so many cars and tracks to master. It was my way to play as a racing driver, and games like Gran Turismo were the only way to express my passion.”
Following his advancement to real race cars again in 2012, Bryan claimed the road racing ladder to join the PWC division in 2015 as a GTA (Amateur) driver. But he quickly moved to the highly-competitive GT (Pro) division in the middle of the season.
Heitkotter was now competing against professional drivers from factories such as Cadillac, Ferrari, Bentley, Audi, Acura and Porsche. Bryan had received one of his racing dreams, but one thing had eluded him until two weeks ago in Utah – a GT race victory.
Heitkotter scored two GT race wins at Utah Motorsports Campus by dominating the tough competition which includes the likes of Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente, Ryan Eversley, Adderly Fong, Michael Cooper, Craig Dolby and Jon Fogarty.
In both 50-minute sprint races, Heitkotter took the lead in turn one (he started third and second, respectively) and never looked back. He led every GT race lap during the Utah GT doubleheader.
“The Utah weekend is what I’ve dreamed for my whole life,” said Heitkotter. “Since I was a little kid I always dreamed of being a racing driver and winning races. It took a while but here I am now and I’m racing with some of the best in the world. It’s a world class racing series with a lot of top teams and drivers, so to be up front in both races, get P1 and close the deal, two in a row – it feels really good. I’ve had a few races get away from me. It was great to seal the deal.”
It’s quite a contrast from six years ago when Bryan was investigating any avenue to get back in the seat of a race car. Now, Heitkotter is a GT race winner and a member of the vast Nissan racing history.
“I’m incredibly honored to be a part of Nissan’s rich motorsports history,” he said. “It’s something that was a far off dream five years ago when I competed in the first U.S. GT Academy competition. It was always my dream to race cars and that was the opportunity I needed.
“My teammate James (JD Davison) and I are always pushing each other hard and learning from each other, ultimately bringing out the best in each of us. Along with the awesome guys at AIM Autosport, we do our best to give Nissan fans something to cheer for and celebrate. Pirelli World Challenge in 2016 has an incredible depth of talent among many manufacturers. It’s a treat to be racing in such a highly competitive series and at several legendary circuits across North America.”
The next legendary circuit for Heitkotter and the Pirelli World Challenge GT class is the 2.52-mile, 12-turn Sonoma Raceway in Northern California, as PWC GT rounds 18 and 19 take place on Sept. 16-18.
“Heading to Sonoma, it is a tremendous road circuit,” Bryan said. “Our Nissan has been good on the long straights this year and I’m not sure if our car is the best at Sonoma. However, if we get the car handling well, we can win. That is our goal entering the Sonoma weekend. We would love to keep the momentum rolling with the AE Replay XD GT Academy NISMO Nissan GT-R.”
The two Sonoma Raceway rounds (Nos. 18 and 19) of the Pirelli World Challenge GT category are scheduled for 1:45 p.m. PDT on Saturday, Sept. 17, and 1:15 p.m. PDT on Sunday, Sept. 18. GT qualifying will take place on Saturday at 9:55 a.m. PDT.