The FIA Gran Turismo Championship visits Australia

Sydney hosts round one of the international racing simulator championship

You don’t have to strain your eyes to see the Gran Turismo brand is becoming ubiquitous with motorsport and the automotive industry.

The game is the highest-selling ever on the Sony PlayStation platform, moving over 80 million copies since its inception in 1997. The instrument cluster you see in a real-world GT-R was created by the game’s designers for Nissan.

Six-time Formula 1 world champion, Lewis Hamilton, is an ambassador for the series and TAG Heuer, Michelin and Toyota are all official partners of the franchise.

CarAdvice even has a 1/18th model of the Citroen GT – a concept car designed in collaboration with the developers of Gran Turismo for reveal at the 2008 Paris Motor Show – sitting on a coffee table in our Sydney office.

It’s becoming hard to deny the game’s place in the future of motoring.

However, in its seventh iteration - Gran Turismo Sport - the series has reached new heights after receiving approval for Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) affiliation.

The partnership came as a surprise to many, but not for the series’ creator Kazunori Yamauchi, whose vision from the beginning had been a clear one: develop Gran Turismo into a legitimate form of racing that produces legitimate racers.

Introducing the first FIA Certified Gran Turismo Championship in 2018; Yamauchi’s concept was an international tour that took the 50 fastest players in the game’s online mode to iconic motoring locations such as Monaco and the Nurburgring to compete in front of a live audience.

His idea was a success, with live online viewership for the 2019 season final reaching over 11.5 million people globally. The championship has proven to be wildly popular and, last weekend, Sydney hosted round one of the championship’s 2020 World Tour.

“I'm deeply moved to be able to host the FIA Gran Turismo Championships in Australia,” Mr Yamauchi said.

“I felt from way back during the first Gran Turismo that Australia is home to some of the most passionate GT fans of the world. Australia is also a very forward thinking country that took notice of the Japanese sports car culture which ultimately led to the creation of Gran Turismo.”

Held at Luna Park’s Big Top, the event marked a first for both Sydney and Australia. Championship rounds are split into two main events: the Manufacturers Series and the Nations Cup.

Australian competitors Matt Simmons and Cody Latkovski both found themselves on the podium by the end of the weekend, with Simmons (in a team of three) placing second in the Manufacturers Series for Porsche and Latkovski finishing second in the Nations Cup to Japan’s Takumi Miyazono in a nail-biting conclusion.

With the 12 drivers seated at custom-built 'rigs' – comprising a screen, high-tech steering wheel and pedal controllers, as well as a headset to communicate with team members – audiences can see drivers' reactions in real time.

Often a hand gesture will be thrown to a driver across the room after a questionable overtake and sometimes, in Miyazono's case, an explosion of celebration as his fellow-countrymen surround him in applause.

A certain intimacy exists in eSport racing that feels lacking in the real world of motorsport. Every driver is on constant display to the live audience at the Gran Turismo Championship.

And the racing action is nothing to snub your nose at. There were honest moments in Latkovski’s final where I had to remind myself I was watching a game and not actual metal and rubber hurtling around a track. Advancements in audio, visuals and physics have blurred the line between simulation and reality.

On vastly different tyre strategies, Latokovski ended up losing out to Miyazono by a minuscule 0.03 seconds after 40-odd minutes of racing. Formula 1 doesn't even produce that same kind of margin and excitement for me anymore.

When you add in the live commentary and FIA stewards who will give penalties for poor sportsmanship, it doesn’t take long for both your heart rate - and understanding of the championship’s popularity - to increase.

Over a 1000 people attended the weekend – the passion and energy in the crowd no different to any other live sporting event. Chants of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!" bellowed through the arena as Latokovski's tyres showed their wear in the final laps of the Nations Cup and the gap to Miyazono fell away.

There may be more Australian events in the future; with talks of a commission for national events slated for sometime next year.

“One of the key roles… of this commission is bringing to the clubs – the national federations – the proper tools so they can effectively manage their national competition, even going to regional or local competition,” Stephane Fillastre, head of brand for the FIA told CarAdvice.

“[Australia] is one of the earliest to come into this,” head of Motor Racing Australia, Andrew Papadopoulos added. “We have held competitions at our national racing (events), so we take the [rigs] along and have people compete."

“Motor racing is about speed,” Mr Fillastre added. “So we would love to be [running an Australian league] by 2021.”

Announced at the event in Sydney, round two of the 2020 championship will take place at Germany's famed Nurburgring on 22-23 May and be streamed live.

Whether you're on the eSports bandwagon or not, its popularity is only set to increase.

In an era of increasingly-stringent pollution and noise emission regulations, sim racing offers a modern alternative for race fans to get their fix without all the strings attached.

You can check out the footage from round one in Sydney at the following links:
Manufacturers Series
Nations Cup

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