Gran Turismo is one of the biggest video game franchises in the world, having sold more than 53 million copies worldwide since the first game was released on the Sony PlayStation in 1997. But the series has gone beyond the realms of the gaming world, and Gran Turismo’s creator, Kazunori Yamauchi, has become involved in projects with real-world car manufacturers.
From the centre console display on the Nissan GT-R, to Toyota’s forthcoming data logging system, and even the GTbyCitroen concept car, Kazunori and Gran Turismo’s influence is firmly felt in the motoring mainstream.
Another avenue being explored by Gran Turismo is the concept of turning a computer gamer into a fully-fledged racing driver. The GT Academy by Nissan found its first star last year with Spaniard Lucas Ordonez, and now the contest is in its final week to find this year’s winner. The final two, Luca Lorenzini from Italy and Jordan Tresson from France, are competing for a seat in a Nissan 370Z run by RJN Motorsport, and will take part in the European GT4 Cup, which starts on 2 May at Silverstone.
Both drivers were competing in the Britcar championship at Snetterton, Norfolk, as part of their training, and Kazunori was there to check them out. We caught up with the Gran Turismo creator for a quick chat.
Have you been keeping up with news on the competitors in GT Academy?
Yes, it’s great to see Luca and Jordan transferring their skills in Gran Turismo to the real world. And it looks like it’s going to be a tough decision to pick a winner from the pair of them.
The GT Academy opened with an online time trail that more than a million people entered, and you posted a time on there for people to aim for. How much practise did you put in to set that time?
Only about an hour or so.
This is the second year of GT Academy in Europe, do you have any plans to run similar competitons in Japan or the US?
The GT Academy came about because of the collaboration between Sony Europe and Nissan. To set up similar packages in Japan and the US will be a lot of work, but we’re working to make it happen and we would like to see an international contest take place next year.
As well as GT Academy, you worked with Nissan on the centre console display for the GT-R. Plus, you’ve collaborated with Toyota on a data logging system and Citroen on the GTbyCitroen concept. Do you feel that these collaborations encourage other car manufacturers to get involved with Gran Turismo?
I think one of the reasons car manufacturers are interested in the GT series is that while it’s basically a video game, it has a far greater reach into the mainstream than you would expect from other video games.
How is your training for the Nurburgring 24 Hours going? (Kazunori is set to race a Lexus IS F in this year’s event (15-16 May), and will co-drive with Auto Express road tester Owen Mildenhall)
It’s going well. I tend to divide my time between practise playing GT and the physical training in the gym.
Does real-life competition help you to guide the way the GT series goes?
It’s certainly an inspiration. From my point of view, you have to try the real thing to convey what it’s like when playing the game.
How are you finding Snetterton today? How does UK motorsport compare with Japanese club racing?
In general it looks like people are having a lot more fun here. Sometimes racing in Japan can get very serious and they look like they’re not having that much fun.
Do you like to have fun when you race?
When you’re racing competitively it’s serious, but I know it’s not just about winning and losing. The fun factor you feel when racing is something that I want to bring across in GT.
On the subject of Gran Turismo, how do you decide which cars you are going to include in the game?
There are three factors, my personal choice, the cars that players want in the game and of course what the manufacturers want to see included.
Have you bought any cars lately that you want to add to the game?
I haven’t bought any cars lately, the last car I bought was a Nissan GT-R!
We have seen preview pictures and videos of Gran Turismo 5 that feature new cars such as the Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo and Mercedes SLS. These are pretty exciting models - are there any more cars that are still to come?
Yes, we’re holding back more exciting models for when the game is released.
A Japanese release date of March was announced for GT5, but this didn’t happen, can you offer any explanation why?
Deciding a release date for a game is always difficult, as it’s not something I can decide on my own. The agreement on a date comes between various parties at Sony, and it’s not necessarily a date I would be hoping for.
Would you have liked GT5 to be released by now?
Actually, I think that March would've been too early. We could have produced the game in time to make that deadline, but the finished product wouldn’t have had everything that I wanted to include.
You’ve been to the Pebble Beach Concours in California a number of times. Is that an indication that more classic cars will be making an appearance in the GT series?
There are a lot of cars that I’d like to see in the game, but it’s a long waiting list, and there’s not enough time to get them all in.
Are there any car makers that won’t be appearing in GT5 that you’d like to see in GT6?
GT5 will have a few historic models in it, but looking back at automotive history there are a lot of cars that would be nice to have. I couldn’t narrow it down to one manufacturer, but Porsche is definitely at the top of my wish list.
Thanks to: Rupert at Jardine International and Jordan at GTPlanet