So why is Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi so thrilled that Sebastian Vettel snatched the F1 championship away from Fernando Alonso? Because the German driver just happens to be one of the main drawcards in the just-launched Gran Turismo 5.
That’s right, Red Bull pilot Vettel appears as an instructor in the new game explaining the finer points of racing. Having this year’s F1 champ in the game certainly adds an amount of reality to the virtual world that is Gran Turismo. And Yamauchi is all smiles.
But he was also a rather happy racer – in the real world – when we joined him for a world exclusive behind the wheel of a Lexus IS-F race car at this year’s Nürburgring 24-hour race. As part of the World Car Awards team, Yamauchi’s co-drivers were ex-Indy racer Hideshi Matsuda and yours truly in a stock IS-F that had been specially prepared for racing at the ‘Ring.
Apart from wider-than-stock slick tyres, a roll-cage, a revised rear suspension set-up and high-performance brake pads, the only modifications made to the IS-F were the addition of a heavy-duty transmission oil cooler to keep that eight-speed flappy-paddle gearbox in check and an ex-F1 rear wing for greater downforce in the high-speed corners. Toyota engineers had also replaced the bonnet, boot and doors with fibreglass parts dropping the car’s kerb weight by around 200kgs.
Now while Yamauchi was playing out one of his dreams – to drive in a real Nürburgring 24-hour race - he also wanted to prove that his game is as close to reality as you can get.
Driving a GT5 virtual race-spec 420hp Lexus IS-F on a game version of the Nürburgring's full 24-hour race course (a world first and highlight of the new game), which links the legendary Nordschleife to the F1 GP track, Yamauchi did two qualifying laps: the first at 100 per cent game speed, and the second at 95 per cent real-world speed. Pushing the IS-F to its limits, and beyond on some corners, his lap time at 100 per cent was 9 minutes 38 seconds.
He says that in the game you have the luxury of being able to push the car to 100 per cent, and not worry about going off or hitting anything. But in the real world, you must tone that down to somewhere around 95 per cent, so that you retain a small margin for error.
He stresses that you are racing against real cars at speeds clearing 162mph with real hazards and real guard rails. Then, on his second qualifying lap at 95 per cent, he drove as if he was qualifying for the real 24-hour race, and posted a time of 9 minutes 48 seconds.
During the 24-hour race on the following day, behind the wheel of the World Car Awards’ Lexus IS-F race car, Yamauchi posted a fastest lap time of, you guessed it, 9 minutes 48 seconds, an unbelievable feat that had us all doing a double-take.
His performance clearly shows beyond a sliver of a doubt that Gran Turismo, in its new guise of GT5, is as close to real world racing as you can get, without actually jumping into a real race car. So anyone saying Yamauchi is only fast in his game doesn’t know the truth. And when you stop and think about it, that’s pretty damn awesome.
For the record, this writer, who co-drove with Yamauchi and cut his Nürburgring teeth on GT4, posted a game lap time of 9 minutes 55 seconds, and got within five seconds of that time in the real race, an event that is almost impossible to get a clean lap. Or at least, that’s my excuse.
Just makes me wonder how the hell Yamauchi managed his game lap time in the real world. Suppose it’s got nothing to do with the fact that he’s just a better driver than me…