Sony has begun its GT Academy competition for Gran Turismo 5 Prologue.

The pan-European competition will be open to residents of the UK & Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Germany & Austria, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, and sees PlayStation and Nissan unite the worlds of virtual and real-life racing to make the dreams of aspiring race drivers a reality.

The competition will be split into three stages. The first phase will see a giant Gran Turismo 5 Prologue tournament take place online on the PlayStation Network. This stage will last for seven weeks.

To enter, players must register their PlayStation Network ID on The next time they play GT5 Prologue online they will be able to race in the GT Academy Time Trial where they will compete to be the fastest around the Eiger Nordwand track in a Nissan Fairlady 350Z.

The second stage will see the fastest 20 drivers from each company invited to a national final in their home country to compete head-to-head on GT5 Prologue. These will take part in July, and only the three fastest drivers from each country will walk away from this onto stage three.

At the third and final stage on August 25th, the virtual gives way to tarmac as the fastest three drivers from each country travel to Silverstone, the home of British motor racing, to take part in the GT Academy - a real-life driving competition on the track itself.

Competitors will not only have to prove their driving skills in a Nissan GT-R but will also be tested for their mental and physical skills in a series of tests.

The two fastest drivers from Silverstone win the ultimate prize of entering a four-month training programme to earn their racing licenses and take part in a real life race in a fully race-prepared Nissan 350Z at the 24-hour endurance event in Dubai in January 2009.

Speaking at Nurburgring 24H race, Kazunori Yamauchi, president of Polyphony Digital, producers of Gran Turismo said: "This is a very exciting day for Gran Turismo. The Gran Turismo story started 10 years ago with the ambition to make a racing game that gives players the ultimate driving simulation experience.

"The GT Academy is the ultimate realisation of this ambition taking the Gran Turismo experience to the next level."