Seventeen years old is an age when a boy is transitioning to become a young man. He is searching the world and trying new things in hopes of discovering what kind of man he will be. Influences of many kinds are at work. Some are good, others are not so good. During the month of January in the year 1998 I was introduced to a new game on Sony’s Playstation platform that would become a very strong force in my interests for the next half of my life and beyond. Fourteen years later if you haven’t heard of the Gran Turismo series you have either been living under a rock or have some weird short-term memory disorder. Either way, you have my sympathy.
It seems ludicrous to anybody who has started playing video games in the last generation or two, but the biggest draw of the original Gran Turismo was the realism of the graphics. I remember running races with my friends and then just sitting back and watching the replay and pointing out scenes that you couldn’t tell apart from the real thing. Title after title the GT series has been able to out shine the previous in the area of graphical superiority. I’ve often played Gran Turismo 5 with one of the premium cars and thought back to what my teenage self would think if he knew that the graphics would come this far.
Another huge feature of the Gran Turismo series has been the sheer volume of cars that are featured within. My knowledge of cars at that time was limited to American manufacturers and of course the exotic supercars. I had no idea the potential for speed and handling that could be found among the lighter, smaller displacement cars that the Japanese and European manufacturers had in their lineups. I chalk that up to my American teenage naivety. Ironically in those early days, the only cars that I could muster the skill to be able to drive with any semblance of control were the smaller Front Engine Front Wheel Drive (FF) cars such as the Honda Civic and my personal favorite Mitsubishi Eclipse. I severely lacked the skills to handle any really high horsepower All Wheel Drive (AWD) cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R and especially anything in the Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) realm.
I was in my first semester of college in December of 1999 when Gran Turismo 2 was released on the PSOne and I wasted countless hours lapping many of my all-time favorite courses; Seattle Circuit, Trial Mountain, Apricot Hill, Midfield Raceway, and Grand Valley. I also learned to tame the infamous Corkscrew bend at Laguna Seca. It’s amazing how taking hundreds of laps around a track allows you (even years later) the ability to close your eyes and run the course in your mind. During these vital years I learned to harness the balanced handling and true sporting nature of the Mid-Engine Rear Wheel Drive (MR) cars. I was still struggling to tame the beasts that were the high horsepower Front Engine Rear Wheel Drive (FR) cars such as the Dodge Viper. What was my weapon of choice at the time? The Honda/Acura NSX.
Even though I was a budding gear head at heart, outside of flogging the snot out of my hand-me-down Ford Tempo sedan, I had not let this interest steer my real life. It wasn’t until after the release of Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec for the Playstation 2 that I acquired a third-generation Toyota Supra (MA70) and became a Brick and Mortar gear head.
I was able to use the knowledge that I gained from years of playing Gran Turismo to upgrade the suspension with high performance springs and dampers as well as stiffer front and rear sway bars. Slotted and cross-drilled brake rotors and steel-braided brake lines ensured that I was able to stop this car when I eventually swapped the normally aspirated 3.0 liter engine for a 1JZGTE from a Japanese Spec (Gran Turismo 4 featured) Supra 2.5 Twin Turbo.
This was only the first of many real world cars that I would own that could also be found in a Gran Turismo game. I’ve owned an Acura Integra (Honda Integra DC2), an Acura RSX type-S (Honda Integra DC5), and possibly my personal favorite 1986 Toyota Corolla (AE86). This little 1.6 liter RWD hatchback was probably the most fun to drive of any of my vehicles. I bought it from a scrap yard for $250 USD and after some suspension and brake work I even took it to a couple of small Autocross events. During my first event I was required to do a few laps of the course with an experienced driver. When those laps were completed my “instructor” commented on how good I was for being a “first-timer” at the basics of driving a car around a course following the correct racing line and using proper throttle control. The only answer that I could give him was that I had learned practically everything I know about how to drive a car in a performance situation from the Gran Turismo games. That gave him a good chuckle.
Of course Gran Turismo has seen its fifth full title on the Playstation 3 console and my love for the series has not wavered. It’s been nearly 2 years since its release and it is still my “go-to” game when I’m between titles or just needing a break from whatever game I’ve been grinding on. I’m determined that even if it takes me another 2 years, I will have the platinum trophy in Gran Turismo 5. I owe it to the series since it’s served me so well for nearly half of my life. Gone (for now) are the sporty cars, replaced by a nice plush Lexus ES350 sedan, although I do still ride sportbikes (Tourist Trophy anybody?). Don’t be surprised though if you hear of me driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and visiting Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca or Infineon Raceway sometime in the not so distant future.
Gran Turismo is in my blood!