The CAR Inquisition: Gran Turismo’s Maverick Maker

Awesomely successful gaming franchise Gran Turismo just held its first FIA-certified championship finals. Creator Kazunori Yamauchi talks about his ongoing merger of the real and the digital

KAZUNORI YAMAUCHI ISN’T the most recognisa-ble figure, but when it comes to creating and inspiring car enthusiasts he’s as important as the likes of Gordon Murray and Colin Chapman. Why? Because he’s the creator of Gran Turismo, one of the most popular racing game series of all time.
‘While Gran Turismo’s a video game, it’s also a movement,’ Yamauchi begins. ‘That’s something I can be proud of.’

It’s true, GT Sport isn’t just a game any more – and it’s not ‘the real driving simulator’ either, as its old tagline used to claim.

Now GT Sport can be anyone’s ticket to an FIA-certified world championship – all you need is a PS4, a copy of the game and some serious talent. But it all started quite inauspiciously with Motor Toon Grand Prix, a Mario Kart knock-off…

Yamauchi delivered his seminal work a full two decades ago, in 1997, and changed racing games forever. With 11 tracks, 140 cars and incredible graphics for the time, the original Gran Turismo on PlayStation 1 blew everything else out of the water, and seam-lessly merged the world of gamers with that of car fans – and made millions more of the latter in the process.
The mammoth, two-disc Gran Turismo 2 followed in 1999 and established Yamauchi’s series as the definitive racing game on consoles – a position it’s never looked like relinquishing since.

Since GT2, five further games have followed and now GT Sport has been fully embraced by the FIA and the mainstream car manufacturers alike. In addition to an FIA-certified cham-pionship, the game now includes Vision GT machines – concept cars designed for the game.
Following his earliest adventures merrily understeering in a Toyota Corolla, Yamauchi soon found himself behind the wheel of an R32 Nissan Skyline, exactly the sort of car you’d aspire to in his game.

‘I was 24 at the time, and I had a five-year loan on the car,’ says Yamauchi. ‘I hadn’t had it long when I crashed the car speeding on public roads, and it disintegrated.’
Five-time Formula 1 world champion and GT Sport ambassador Lewis Hamilton, like thousands of fans, credits the game with setting him on a path deep into racing and car culture. GT’s creator admits the game has also increased his own car knowledge, and in particular professes that his newfound love for classics is a direct result of the game.

‘I first created the game when I only knew modern cars,’ he admits. ‘But recently I’ve had more opportunities to encounter and discover the classic cars. They’re special.’
Yamauchi has dabbled in racing, too. In 2009 he entered his first race at the Nürburgring, and has returned several times – even taking his first class victory at the Green Hell in 2011.

In 2018, GT Sport might still be on the PS4 but it’s more than a game. Hamilton says he prefers it to Mercedes’ bespoke Brackley-based simulator, and Yamauchi uses it to further his own racing techniques.

‘I do practise [with the game] whenever I race. I do both the set-up of the car and practise for the race in Gran Turismo,’ he says. ‘So when I’m on the track I’m actually verifying the car settings and driving techniques I’ve already tested in the game.’
Gran Turismo’s evolution has seen it go from game to feeder series to true motorsport in its own right: this year saw the first FIA-certified GT Sport world championships.
‘It really started with a common objective, which we agreed with the FIA when we started, of really helping to shape the next 100 years of motorsport,’ says Yamauchi.

What’s next?
‘The objective is to continue to work to consolidate Gran Turismo’s position as an everyday tool. I want it to be the basis for everyone who’s a fan of cars and racing.’

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OPEN-TOP BENTLEYS
Wind in your hair, sun on your face and your destination hoving into view really quite quickly

The new one
Continental GT Convertible (2019)
The all-new Continental gets the convertible treatment. All the good stuff from the coupe is here – rotating infotainment Toblerone, far keener dynamics, the 626bhp W12 – but with a roof you can lose. Prices start from £175,100.

The duff one
Azure T (1995)
A classic chunk of pre-VW Bentley engineering. The Azure was based on the Arnage, which wallowed like a holed frigate and, with the roof removed, things only got worse. Didn’t put people off, though – Bentley sold 1403 at over £200,000 a pop.

The rare one
R-Type Continental Drophead Coupe (1954)
This svelte device was the fastest four-seater of its day – the R-Type Continental cracked 120mph in speed tests. Only 207 were built and only a couple were Dropheads so you won’t see many on eBay. Also you’ll need £1m before you hit ‘Make Offer’.

The ultimate one
Blower Bentley (1929)
The supercharged 4½-litre Birkin raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1930. Busy cockpit includes controls for advance/retard, supercharger oil flow and a manual lap counter, as well as all the conventional stuff.

 


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