When he's not developing the next installment in Sony's 'Gran Turismo' franchise, which has sold 70 million copies and counting, Kazunori Yamauchi is likely behind the wheel of a car. Yamaouchi has two Ford GTs, a VW Golf R32, a Porsche GT3, a Nissan GT-R, a Mercedes SL55 AMG, a Honda S2000, and a Nissan 370Z. Not quite the 1,200 virtual vehicles in 'Gran Turismo 6' (GT6), which comes out on Friday, December 6 for PlayStation 3, but still an impressive lineup.
"Right now the car that I want to buy is the Corvette Z7," Yamauchi tells 'Men's Journal,' who admits he uses his video game to test-drive vehicles before trying them out in the real world.
His virtual driving has translated to real vehicles and tracks. Yamauchi is a professional race car-driver. He began his career in 2009 when he joined the Gazoo Racing Team and raced on the Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit in Germany in a Lexus IS-F, earning a team-best fastest lap time of 10 minutes and 9 seconds to help the team win the SP8 class. He returned to that same track in 2010 to earn a 4th place finish in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring. In 2011 and 2012, he drove a Nissan GT-R and took first place for the SP8 class in the same race.
"I've been racing the Nürburgring for the last five years, and there's a lot of technology that's been fed back directly to 'Gran Turismo' from the discoveries made on that track," says Yamauchi. "There are things that you couldn't know without actually racing a car on the track."
Yamauchi says he drives exactly the same way in the video game as he does in the real world. This notion led to the formation of the Nissan GT Academy, which allows gamers around the world to compete virtually for a chance to become a real driver. Over the past three years, gamers-turned-drivers have raced on real courses like Dubai 24 Hours and the Continental Challenge Series at Road America.
"When I created the first 'Gran Turismo,' I knew that one day a driver that learned how to drive on 'Gran Turismo' would become a race-car driver," said Yamauchi. "And it really did come true."
GT6 also features custom cars that Yamauchi hand-picked at the past few SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) shows in Las Vegas. The annual Gran Turismo Awards takes vehicles like David Eckert's 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 40 and meticulously re-creates them for the game using the same process every car goes through.
"We want to include all types of car culture in 'Gran Turismo' and the culture at SEMA is something that I love, so we've been doing that every year at the GT Awards where we award five cars in different classes and then choose one to put into the game."
Another car showcased a different way that cars and gaming have converged. At the November Los Angeles Auto Show, Sony had a pair of high-tech PlayStation 3 (PS3) sleds – complete with driver's seat, steering wheel, and working pedals – featuring the new Mercedes Benz AMG Vision GT concept car, drivable on Nürburgring. This supercar made its debut at the car show and is a playable vehicle in GT6. Yamauchi offers some advice for those who plan on getting behind the wheel of this sleek new vehicle, which won't ever be hitting the real-world roads.
"The dimensions of the AMG are very well set up," says Yamauchi. "It has a very long wheel base and it's very well balanced, with the weight balance slightly more towards the rear than the front. It's a very fast car. It does about seven minutes flat on Nürburgring. You can actually relax when you're on the track, although you do have to be careful on some of the curves."
Gamers can race across 37 tracks in the new game, including the iconic Silverstone Circuit, Australia's Mount Panorama, and Spain's Ascari Race Resort. Yamauchi and his team will continually update the game with new vehicles, tracks, and other features – including a 'Gran Turismo' app that will let gamers drive in the real world and download that data to their PS3 for a customizable and sharable racing experience.