Professional motorsports have always been on the cutting edge of technology. Today, they utilize aerodynamic designs down to the minutest detail, light-weight carbon fiber chassis, and lots of computerized wizardry under the hood to help eke out every bit of performance and efficiency from these machines. This also means that the cost of developing these cars is ever-increasing. So it becomes impractical and expensive to have a test driver take the car out around the test track each time a change is made to it.

This is where car simulators come in. These are computerized simulations that mimic the performance of the real car, allowing teams to test their cars without incurring heavy expenses. But it isn’t just car manufacturers and racing teams that utilize them; simulators are now available to just about anyone with a computer and a racing wheel setup that can be purchased off the shelf. Simulators such as iRacing, rFactor, and GTR have been extremely popular for years, and thanks to fanatical community support, these games are teeming with user-generated content by way of new cars and tracks.

But while these PC simulators give you as real a simulation as you can expect without actually getting into the real thing, the limited budgets of these games’ developers don’t allow them to go all out. That’s what sets Sony and Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo series apart. Simulation purists may scoff at console-based racing sims, and Gran Turismo may not be the most accurate sim around – it is a game after all – but it brings authenticity in several other areas.

Gran Turismo games have been synonymous with Sony’s PlayStation consoles since the first first game on the PlayStation One in 1998. Since then, Polyphony Digital’s sim racers have been pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in games with realistic graphics, hundreds of cars from the world’s top manufacturers, and an advanced physics engine for realistic gameplay. This year will see release of Gran Turismo’s fifth full iteration on the PlayStation 3 – Gran Turismo 5. Here are some of the features that take Gran Turismo 5 beyond the realm of video games and make it worthy of its “The Real Driving Simulator” catchphrase.

Over 1,000 real-world cars
Gran Turismo 5 boasts an unprecedented collection of over 1,000 real world cars remodeled down to the smallest detail and programmed to perform and handle just as their real world counterparts. Here, you’ll find everything from cars you regularly see on city streets, like the Suzuki Swift and SX4, to exotic supercars like the Mercedes SLS AMG and Bugatti Veyron. Hundreds of these cars will also boast intricately detailed interiors; so much so, that it’s hard to tell the Gran Turismo 5 version apart from the real thing.

3D with head-tracking
Sony recently added 3D functionality to the PS3, and Gran Turismo 5 is its showcase title. The cars in GT5 feature a cockpit view that puts the player inside the car. In the past, cockpit views in simulators have felt rather restrictive, because it’s hard to judge depth, with most of the track ahead of you blocked by the dashboard. But 3D technology adds that depth, and lets the player feel like he/she truly is in the driver’s seat. Using the PlayStation Eye camera, GT5 is also capable of head tracking. The camera picks up movements of your head as you play, panning the in-game view from side to side accordingly. This can be of great help while overtaking or to look into the rear-view mirror.

GPS tracking
Polyphony Digital have collaborated with auto tech company Denso to create the GPS-track day unit, which, once fit in a car, will allow you to record a variety of data as you set laps around a race track. You can then pull the memory card out of the car, plug it into your PS3, and download your real world data into GT5. You can then compete with your real-world hot lap times by selecting the same car and track in GT5 (if available). This technology will come built into the Toyota’s new FT-86G, and the unit has also been tested with the Lexus IS-F. This is a great feature for race car drivers who would like
to keep improving on their lap times and better learn track layouts without having to make trips to the race track.

License Tests
Unlike most driving simulators, which thrust you straight into the action without any outside help, Gran Turismo games have always sought to teach players how to drive properly before putting them on a grid full of cars. Through its license tests, Gran Turismo teaches players everything from basic braking and accelerating and negotiating corners, to overtaking and even driving on alternate surfaces like dirt and snow. All the lessons are well explained and are also of great help in everyday driving.

GT Academy
The GT Academy is the truest testament to the realism that Gran Turismo games bring. Started in 2008, GT Academy gives Gran Turismo 5 players the opportunity to make the jump from the virtual race track to the real thing. In partnership with Nissan, this is sort of a talent hunt to bring together the best GT5 players from across world to compete for a chance to race real race cars, on real tracks, and against real professional competitors. GT Academy’s 2009 winner Lucas Ordonez now races in the European GT4 Cup. This year’s winners Luca Lorenzini and Jordan Tresson made their professional racing debut in March, and Tresson will also compete in the European GT4 Cup, where he will drive the Nissan 370Z GT. Quite a leap from playing Gran Turismo in the living room!

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