Name a racing game. Admit it – Gran Turismo was the first game to come to your head.
Born in the golden age of gaming – 1997 – Polyphony Digital’s PS1 masterpiece offered unparalleled realism and breathtaking visuals that transported you into the world.
More than two decades later, Polyphony is once again re-defining the genre – and looks to have finally closed the gap between reality and virtual-reality.
Thanks to 4k graphics and hyper-realistic driving mechanics, Gran Turismo Sport now offers all the thrills of real racing without the financial barriers to entry.
In fact, pro-video-game racers are now seen as just as credible as their real-world counterparts.
This became increasingly apparent when we attended the FIA Gran Turismo Championships in Paris earlier this month, where dozens of young drivers travelled from across the globe for the chance to compete in the illustrious World Tour hosted by PlayStation.
Most of the competitors had been playing Gran Turismo for the majority of their lives.
Many battled for a place in the GT academy when it first launched in 2008 – and, with the rise of esports, especially within the motorsports industry, they soon found a platform, an audience and a chance at making a viable living.
Speaking with Kazunori Yamauchi, creator and director of the Gran Turismo series, his aim with the GT Academy has always been explicit.
“Ten years ago when the GT academy started the objective was clear, it was to make a video gamer into a professional racer,” said Kaz back at the 2018 GT Championship final in Monaco.
Since then not a lot has changed.
We caught up with Kaz, as he likes to be called, whilst in Paris, the first stop of the 2019 World Tour.
“Six years ago when we first announced we were going to develop Gran Turismo Sport we hadn’t imagined that the situation of the world would be the state we have received today,” he said.
“It’s not quite clear whether what we are doing is even an esport to begin with!
“Originally, our intention was to think about what would be the best way to build the next 100 years of motorsports. The championship is the result of the mapping that went into that.”
With more than 50 competitors and a genuinely electric atmosphere, it was easy to forget that you were watching a bunch of gamers racing against each other on PlayStations.
In January, F1 esports star Enzo Bonito defeated Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi at his own game, leaving the commentators and half the internet gobsmacked.
Kaz believes we will start to see this more as motorsports become more accessible.
“I think for the first time in history motorsports now has an amateur side to it,” Kaz said.
“It is on the same level as other sports like basketball and baseball where it’s very accessible. This is the first time in 150 years of motorsports history that motorsports have been this accessible!”
We spoke with one of the UK drivers competing in the Paris’ Nations Cup, where countries and territories compete against each other in a series of races for victory.
Martin Grady has been racing for the majority of his life and also took part in the 2018 GT Championships.
Grady agreed with Kaz that the upset caused by Bonito was only the beginning. “It’s not a surprise,” he said.
“When I know sim racers are going to these competitions, there’s a high chance they will beat a real racing driver.
“It helps us because people think it’s (sim-racing) a joke, and then GT Academy came along and people started saying ‘wow actually these guys are experienced’.”
Grady also explained that sim-racers have a few huge advantages over drivers that train in real cars all day.
“It does translate to the real world, we get extra bonuses like, we use our eyes to tell if the car is over-steering,” he said.
“A racing driver just uses the feel of it, so it’s kind of nice that we have that extra advantage.
“Another perk is the number of laps we can do. It doesn’t matter if you just restart, you can just keep going over and over again.”
With so many young drivers now growing up on racing simulators, it is hard to see how they will not impact the future of motorsports.
Although we may not be watching races solely on Gran Turismo Sport in the future – it’s likely the game will play a key role to play in training the next generation of drivers as well as providing an entertaining platform for amateur racers to make a career.
Gamers, start your engines.
You can click here to find out more information about the 2019 GT Championship World Tour