There are few times when the real world and virtual world collide, but thanks to Sony PlayStation, Gran Turismo 5 and Toyota, a rare opportunity presented itself in the form of a competition where journalists and professional drivers would be pitted against each other, both on track and in a video game to see who could master both skills the quickest and become the overall champion.
The real-life driving portion involved racing Toyota Yaris’ (just hold on a second, you won’t be so disappointed with the car choice when I explain more) around Willow Springs, Street of Willow racetrack for a total of three hot laps, much like a time attack. After completing the driving portion, we went inside and locked ourselves into a properly set-up GT5 rig that included a 3-D HD TV, a force-feedback steering wheel and a bucket seat. We then drove an equally modified Toyota Yaris around a virtual track that had been custom-built to somewhat resemble Streets of Willow and, same deal as on the track, we were given three laps to set out fastest time. When both challenges were done, all of our times were tallied up and the individual with the lowest combined time was deemed the victor.
The competition started off a bit slow with all the journalists driving Toyota Celicas as our practice mules to familiarize ourselves with the track. The cars were torqueless, understeered and well past their primes, but I tried to focus on my driving line rather than the aging equipment. My concern wasn’t the on-track portion, though — I’ve got plenty of experience there — it’s the video game leg that had me worried. Many of my college years were spent playing the Gran Turismo series, but ever since I got a real job, my seat time behind the TV has been all but nonexistent. Knowing that Super Street editor Sean Klingelhoefer is an avid gamer — and an exceptionally good one, at that — meant I would need to master GT5 in one day if I were to beat him, and the odds of that happening were slim to none.
My only hope was to set a very fast lap time on track and try to be within a few seconds in the video game. Thankfully, for the real competition we were provided with a proper race car, or very close to it. The Toyota Yaris that we would be driving was built to SCCA spec, which meant it was gutted with a rollcage, had some sticky rubber, proper race pads and a tiny bump in horsepower (10, to be exact), raising the total to a not-so-whopping 116 hp.
The Yaris was by no means quick, but what it lacked in the straight line it made up in its sharp and precise cornering ability. It was light years better to drive than the Celica and was well matched for the Streets of Willow course layout. We had little time to familiarize ourselves with the Yaris, and, before we knew it, we were running our three hot laps.
There’s a twist to this story, though, and it includes Joey Logano, who is a professional NASCAR driver for Joe Gibbs Racing. Joey was asked to participate in the competition, and it was our goal to try to beat him. Even though NASCAR is almost all left turns, that doesn’t mean these guys don’t know how to drive — they’re well accomplished racers. Despite knowing that, I felt I had a chance to beat Joey on track since I had some more experience lapping streets than he did.
It’s a shame that I didn’t have a couple extra laps because I missed a few corners and lost precious time; in the end, I disappointed myself because Joey Logano set a lap time of 1:17.00 and my fastest lap was 1:17.54. Half a second isn’t bad, but it’s not great. I kept thinking how great it would have been to beat a NASCAR driver. Maybe next time!
The rest of the competition played out just as I expected. Sean was unstoppable at GT5, posting a lap time that was 3 seconds faster than mine and more than a second faster than Mr. NASCAR, Joey Logano. He would take the overall victory amongst all of the journalists, despite Joey barely beating him with his combined time.
It was a great experience to be able to play arguably the best driving simulator and race around a track back to back. It showed me just how far we’ve come in building a hyper-realistic experience through video games that mimic the real world extremely well. Even though you don’t have a sense of speed and lateral forces in the game, the controls translate incredibly well from real life into the virtual world, and if you don’t necessarily have the ability to go to the track, then playing Gran Turismo 5 is a very worthy substitute. Just don’t expect to cut your teeth in the game and be a pro on the track. There’s no easy way to become track master.
|Rank||Driver||GT5 Time||Track Time||Composite Time|