With all the glitz of the Formula One Championship circus, the FIA’s most curious motorsports competition, the FIA Certified Gran Turismo Championships, rolled into Sydney last weekend on the first leg of the 2020 world tour.
Sydney’s iconic Luna Park hosted 50 drivers from 18 different countries. The park’s Big Top venue set the stage for the third year of the FIA Gran Turismo Championships. Attending the event was a president of Motorsport Australia, Andrew Papadopoulos, who was joined by Kazunori Yamauchi, the CEO of Polyphony Digital and creator of the Gran Turismo games.
The PlayStation 4’s premier motorsports game, Gran Turismo Sport is nearly three-years-old. Released to so-so reviews, with players complaining of lack of content, the game has gone from strength-to-strength, adding a single-player career mode to what was always intended to be a multiplayer-focused experience. As yet, the fidelity of the game’s visuals and car physics engine has yet to be beaten by any other racing game.
Gran Turismo Sport is the only racing game to be certified by the international motorsport governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, better known as the FIA. These are the same guys that keep Formula One in check. For a videogame to have this accolade is a big deal. Players competing online, at home, on their PlayStation 4s, are effectively seeding themselves and part of a global championship tournament.
With the entry price for a seat in a real racing car getting prohibitively expensive, motorsport risks becoming nothing more than a load of moderately skilled, entitled rich kids smashing up other people’s cars. Gran Turismo Sport players around the world all have the opportunity to prove themselves and rise to become champions, with just a PS4 and a copy of the game.
The FIA and the likes of F1 world champion, Louis Hamilton, as well as a number of manufacturers have all added their weight to the Gran Turismo franchise’s world championship. As esports go, you really can’t get more legitimate than this.
PlayStation AU and Polyphony Digital invited me along to an exclusive press preview of the weekend’s events. I met the drivers and competed in a special Pro-Am race on a digital recreation of Australia’s famous Mount Panorama circuit.
I was teamed up with Perth driver, Connor Healy. Managing a dire 12th place (out of twelve cars) in qualifying, I remembered just how unforgiving Gran Turismo Sport can be. It’s a game the needs to be driven as you would in real life. It has no time for heroics, the cars having a very realistic mass and velocity that take more than just slamming on the anchors to pull though the bends
The Bathurst circuit’s, Murray’s Corner continued to be the thorn in my side that I’ve struggled with since Codemasters’ TOCA Touring Cars games. For the five-lap race at least the first two laps had to be raced by the journalist member of each Pro-Am team. After my two laps, as per the rules, I pitted in, having gained two places to 10th. Conner’s expert driving not only closed the huge gap I’d created between our car and the cars in front, he also gained another place, with our team finishing 9th.
The Gran Turismo championship is the perfect spectator esport, not only are the races thrilling, the game’s graphics are virtually photoreal. With incredible visuals, along with live commentary, it was like watching actual life motor-racing on a big screen. The only thing giving the game away was the rows of drivers sitting in front of monitors, using top-end Thrustmaster racing wheel and pedal sets, instead of sitting in an actual racing car.
During the Friday session, the drivers competed in qualifying races to determine the grid positions for the weekend’s races. As with previous years, the 2020 tournament had the drivers competing in both the Nations Cup and a Manufacturer Series, where teams representing 12 manufacturers, from Hyundai to Aston Martin battle for the podium.
This year, it was Japan’s Takuma Miyazono who took first place in the Sydney Nations Cup Final with Australian, Cody Nikola Latkovski, in second and Hong Kong’s Jonathan Wong in third place. The BMW team, consisting of drivers from Spain, Chile and the US came first, with Porsche in second place and Lexus third.
It’s great to see premium esports events such as this in our corner of the world, with Australian residents invited to come and watch the two-day event, live, for free. I would like to thank PlayStation Australia and Polyphony Digital for giving me a glimpse into the incredible world of the FIA Certified Gran Turismo Championships.