Gran Turismo: gamer to MX-5 racer in 3 days (Part 1)

Dean Evans
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Polyphony Digital, home of Gran Turismo, Tokyo

Polyphony Digital, home of Gran Turismo, Tokyo

From home to a game to a racetrack, that's the dream portrayed in the Gran Turismo movie, currently playing in cinemas. And last week, that's exactly what we did. From a PS5 at home in NZ, to racing an MX-5 in Japan, we did the triple play of Gran Turismo game, GT movie and GT-sponsored racecar, with a VIP visit to the Gran Turismo headquarters in Tokyo.

Celebrating 25 years, Gran Turismo has become one of Sony's biggest game titles, an all-time hero and racing simulator institution for its creator, Polyphony Digital and President Kazunori Yamauchi.


Kazunori Yamauchi, centre in jacket, GT creator, and some of the team

Running longer in parallel, Mazda has been holding a yearly celebration of the MX-5 since its launch in 1989, called the Mazda Festa and Party Race, headlined by a four-hour eco-endurance race in cars Mazda builds and loans to media outlets once a year, to race around Tsukuba Circuit, 90 mins north of Tokyo. Up to five drivers are in each team, an allowance for one pro driver, and as the only international team, titled "NHKxGTxDrivenxC!", with drivers comprising team principal and Nurburgring 24 Hour racer Peter Lyon, Phillipines MX-5 Spec Series champ Juha Turalba, GT staffers Kazuki Yamada (also Japan GT champion), and R&D staffer Shuhei Sakamoto.


As a Gran Turismo racer since the original GT in 1998, with a trophy from the Aussie launch event to prove it, thanks to Sony PlayStation NZ and Logitech, I'd been practicising on my simulator cockpit on Gran Turismo 7, on a PS5, with a VR2 headest (see our review) and Logitech G923 wheel (see our review), for more than three months in the Mazda MX-5 1.5-litre that's sold in the virtual Mazda showroom.


Home GT7 set-up: Gamers Cockpit, Logitech wheel, PS5 (out of shot) and VR2


The unique part is that the laps aren't flat out, but instead require a lower rev limit, one higher gear in ever corners and a lot of lifting and coasting, all to conserve fuel; 1m:15s lap times was our target, despite the car being capable of 1m:10s. Oh, training also included 3-4 gym visits per week doing actual cardio work, and shaving 10kg.

Given our schedule included a special VIP visit to Gran Turismo HQ, I thought it appropriate to watch the movie first, despite our own movie review. My mini-review was that the less you know about racing, the game and GT Academy, the better it was. Two stars for me, thanks to the cringe factor and 'that's not how it happened' moments, but 4 stars for the objective enjoyment. It offers insight into the game and competition and how a gamer can very effectively transfer into a real-life car and do very well.

See our harsh-but-fair GT movie review here.

In a secret location, in a discrete Tokyo building, the lift doors open to the Polyphony Digital, home of Gran Turismo. We're here to spend a few hours refining our driving. It's an ethereal place, with a large, open area, huge screens, even a bar and menu, ala the game, drinks and mandatory vending machines, trophies and awards dotted around, and even a locker room with a track map for each cubby.

Before we start, creator Kazunori Yamauchi greets us, wishes us good luck and tells us to go one better than last year's 2nd place finish! No pressure, then.
We spend half a day driving around Tsukuba on a very special version of Gran Turismo that allows use to tailor our driving style for fuel use, with a score given for each lap relating to lap times and fuel use. After we each do near 100 laps, we're each doing consistent 1m:14-15s lap times while hitting our fuel targets.

Game on, so to speak!

See Part 2 of our Gamer to Racer story and how the race went here.


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