Toyota Racing’s Kazuki Nakajima explores the world of Gran Turismo 6

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In its latest iteration, Gran Turismo 6 has become so realistic and immersive that it’s rightly described as a driving simulator. For most people, the PlayStation title is the closest they will ever come to climbing behind the wheel of the world’s fastest, rarest, and most exotic machinery – machines like the ground-breaking Toyota TS030 HYBRID that raced in the LMP1 class of the World Endurance Championship (WEC) in 2012 and 2013.

Only a handful of people on the planet know what it’s really like to drive the 830hp petrol-electric endurance racer so to get a unique insight into the virtual TS030 HYBRID, Toyota Racing driver Kazuki Nakajima met GT6 creator Kazunori Yamauchi ahead of this year’s Fuji round of the WEC to experience the driving simulator and discuss the similarities between the virtual and real world.

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With three 60″ displays creating an amazing GT6 simulator setup, Nakajima-san’s five-lap time trial session produced an incredible lap time of 1:26.545 around the Fuji Speedway circuit, faster than his own pole position time from 2012 (1:27.499) and also the pole-sitter’s time from 2013 (1:26.577).

Most impressive to Nakajima-san was the incredible job that Yamauchi-san and his team had done at recreating the feel of the TS030 HYBRID in the absence of actual data on its performance characteristics, which is understandably kept secret by the race team. “Things like the braking points, the feeling of tyre grip and the feeling when you turn the steering wheel, those places are almost identical to the actual car. It’s true, I’m sure, that [Toyota Racing] are not releasing information about the contents of the hybrid system and its effects, so it must be difficult to get a simulation that is this close. Despite that, I feel that the simulator really re-creates those aspects well,” says Nakajima-san. “The performance of the car itself is very realistic.”

Explaining how they managed to get the simulation so close to the real-world experience, Yamauchi-san revealed: “From the publicly released data about the technical regulation, we are able to calculate the amount of electrical force available at one time from the capacitor spec [the electric component of the TS030’s hybrid system]. From there, we try inputting our estimates of how much motor output there is in the 100 to 200km/h ranged based on the officially released information. During cornering, no electric power is necessary even if the speed might be more than 100 km/h, so we may decide not to include any motor power in that case. Those are the kinds of estimations we base our development on.”

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In a sense, the process that creates the digital TS030 HYBRID isn’t too far removed from how Toyota Motorsport GmbH developed the real race car. Yamauchi-san: “It is indeed exactly the same process as we use in developing our driving simulator. First, you have a simulation, the logging (data input) of the simulator, you have the feedback of the drivers, then you have the actual driving tests and get driver feedback from that and do more logging. And that process is repeated over and over. That is the same thing we do in developing our driving simulator.”

The Toyota driver agrees that the use of simulators has become vital in the fast-moving world of a top-level motorsport series like the WEC. But unlike in GT6, the transition to real world often reveals issues that have to be addressed. “There are still a lot of things you can’t know until you actually get the machine out on the track and run it. Especially in areas like the machine vibration and such. If it does produce vibration, you naturally have to take measures to fix it,” explains Nakajima-san.

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It’s an element of the real world engineering that fills the GT6 creator with awe and respect: “When we find something wrong [in our driving simulator] it is still simply in the context of playing a driving simulator at our desks. But, with an actual car, the driver is out there on this giant test course staking his life on the job, and if something goes wrong he can get injured seriously at times.”

Even with the highly technical aspects to the TS030 and TS040 HYBRID race cars, in some ways driving them in the real-world is no different to driving a normal hybrid car. Nakajima-san: “We are not really aware of all the technical things that are going on inside the machine…The hybrid system on this year’s car is basically the same system that is used on production Prius model. [B]ecause our car is used in racing, there have to be some detailed control measures that are different, and I believe that there are things that can be fed back from the race car development to production models as well.”

While any of us can take advantage of the opportunity to test-drive a Prius or any other Toyota model, the opportunity to experience the TS030 HYBRID firsthand like Kazuki Nakajima and his team-mates isn’t going to come our way in the real-world. However the Gran Turismo 6 driving simulator means we can get as close as possible to the real thing, and now we have Nakajima-san’s Fuji Speedway lap time as a benchmark to aim for – let us know how you get on in the comments section below.

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Read the whole interview with Kazuki Nakajima and Kazunori Yamauchi over at the Toyota Global website, and visit the Toyota Racing website to stay up-to-date with the team’s efforts to add the 2014 manufacturers’ championship to its recently-won drivers’ title at the final round in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on 30 November.

By Andrew Biddle

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