Kazunori Yamauchi is the legendary Japanese game designer responsible for the Gran Turismo® series. He's notoriously low profile and a legend in the gaming world, making it very difficult to get an audience with the man who knows all the secrets of the world's most popular racing game - the fifth installment of which is due out this year.
But we caught up with Kazunori at Snetterton this weekend, where he was trackside to watch the progress of PlayStation® and Nissan's GT Academy 2010 - a competition that aims to turn armchair experts on the Gran Turismo game into real-life racing drivers. First prize is a fully-sponsored drive in the European GT4 Cup this season, and Kazunori has taken a close personal interest in the event, which attracted entries from over 1.2 million gamers from across 17 countries.
After an intensive selection process, two finalists – Jordan Tresson of France and Italian Luca Lorenzini – were racing 370Zs in the Britcar Production Series on Saturday in advance of the final showdown, a one-on-one test session at Silverstone later this week. We dragged Kazunori away from studying the dozens of cars in the Britcar pit lane to get his thoughts on the GT Academy and the forthcoming launch of GT5....
Did you ever think it would be possible for an amateur to practice on your game and become a racing driver?
How does it make you feel seeing that happen at GT Academy?
There's a big difference between having confidence that something could be possible and it coming true. Seeing Luca and Jordan becoming racing drivers is actually very moving for me.
Would you like to see similar programs to the GT Academy running elsewhere?
We want to do it in Japan and North America.
How closely do you believe the dynamics of these racing cars can be recreated in a game like Gran Turismo?
From my own racing experience, I don't think there is any discrepancy between the two. It's very good learning material! Jordan and Luca are proof of that. And I know that Sebatian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton play Gran Turismo all the time.
If Gran Turismo is already so realistic, how can you improve it?
You'll get a better understanding of just how we've improved the GT experience by playing Gran Turismo 5. Actually playing the game will help demonstrate the advancements better than an explanation - wait till GT5!
What new circuits and cars would you like to recreate in the new game?
We haven't announced what tracks are going to be included in the game yet, so it's hard to answer. We're definitely having the Top Gear test track though and we will announce some other stunning tracks soon!
You seem to have an obsessive attention to detail when it comes to cars. Has that always been the case and have you lost any of your passion after so many years of doing this?
Personality-wise, that's how I've always been. Details are very important to me in every area of life. However, cars are mysterious things. Many things can start as a hobby and then can become your job - but once they become your job, it's easy to get bored and lose interest in them. Cars are different, though. Everyone I know who works with or around cars for a living seem to get more and more interested in them. It's a rare thing. When I go to motor shows, the crowds gathered around the new sports cars include a lot of old men! It proves that interest in cars never fades.
Would you consider developing a game about anything else?
If I were to make a different game, it would probably be an adventure or role playing game.
What cars do you have in your personal collection?
Nissan GT-R – I was involved in its development, which was a dream come true. Ford GT, Porsche GT3, Mercedes SL AMG and a Honda S2000 racing car.
What's been your biggest crash?
It was on a big ring road around Tokyo. I blocked it. Very embarrassing.
What's the future for the Gran Turismo brand? Is there room for expansion away from just games?
Good question. I think in making Gran Turismo a lot of opportunities have arisen. These are great chances to do new things. GT Academy is a great example of this. It is taking the game to another level by creating real racing drivers. Helping develop the Nissan GT-R just came along by chance, it wasn't planned. So I'm not sure about the future of Gran Turismo. I'll always be open-minded, curious and interested in new things, as they arise in the future.
What's your best lap time around the Nurburgring Nordschleife on Gran Turismo?
I think it's in one of the Group C prototype cars: 6 minutes 30 seconds.
And in the real world when you've raced there?
Haha. 8 minutes flat