The CAR Inquisition: Kazunori Yamauchi, Mr Gran Turismo | CAR Magazine

The CAR Inquisition: Kazunori Yamauchi, Mr Gran Turismo

Published: 01 February 2019 Updated: 01 February 2019

► We speak to the creator of GT Sport
► At the first ever FIA GT Sport championship finals in Monaco
► He’s quite the car nut 

Kazunori Yamauchi isn’t the most recognisable figure in the automotive industry, 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.

Read our review of GT Sport here

‘While Gran Turismo’s a video game, it’s also a movement,’ Yamauchi tells CAR. ‘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…

PlayStation 1 days

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 seamlessly 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 mainstream car manufacturers alike. In addition to an FIA-certified championship, the game now includes Vision GT machines – concept cars designed for the game.

Driving in reality

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,’ admits Yamauchi. ‘I hadn’t had it long when I crashed the car speeding on public roads, and it disintegrated.’

The best racing games according to CAR

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.

Read our original review of the R32 Nissan Skyline here

‘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.

Simulation or standalone sport?

‘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.’

6 CAR curveballs for Kaz

Tell us about your first car?

‘My first car was a 1982 Toyota Corolla. It was front-wheel drive and it was actually a car that my girlfriend at the time gave me. It was the car I learned how to drive in. Back then I would do things like go into intersections as fast as I could until the car understeered, or try locking the brakes deliberately… I really learned about cars in that car.’

What achievement makes you most proud?

‘Gran Turismo’s status is now so much more than a video game.’

What’s the best thing you’ve ever done in a car?

‘The 2011 Nürburgring 24-hour race. That was very memorable for me because I was racing the SP8T class in a Nissan GT-R. It was the first time I experienced a class victory in a race, which was very satisfying. The conditions on the track were constantly changing but I really felt at one with the machine.’

Tell us when you screwed up?

‘The R32 GT-R I crashed. I still feel bad about that to this day.’

Supercar or classic?

‘Through things like Pebble Beach and the Mille Miglia I’ve just started to discover how great classic cars are; they’re fantastic. In the Mille Miglia I drove the Mercedes 300SL, for four days, 16 hours a day, at pretty much full speed. That was tougher than 24 hours of the Nürburgring but also fun to do.’

Company curveball… What was unusual about the Suzuki Escudo?

‘That was a memorable car for a lot of people. I remember that car well – I’m actually friends with the guy who created that car, and built it. There was a bug in the game where you could drive along the wall in the Escudo and get up to 1000km/h or something!’

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's Digital Editor, F1 and sim-racing enthusiast. Partial to clever tech and sports bikes