One of the main reasons why the Autobacs Super GT Series has become the most popular domestic racing championship in Japan, and a big reason why it has steadily built a devoted fanbase overseas since the turn of the century, is due to the series’ exposure in video games – none more prominent than the marquee racing franchise of the Sony PlayStation console line, Gran Turismo.
Gran Turismo was a game-changer not only for the entire racing game genre, but for mainstream automotive culture on the whole. For much of the history of Gran Turismo, the awesome cars of Super GT, formerly the All-Japan GT Championship, have been a staple of the franchise.
Specifically, it was the 1999 sequel, Gran Turismo 2 for the original PlayStation console, that was the first to feature authentic, licensed cars from the All-Japan GT Championship (JGTC). GT2 exposed the JGTC to a brand new audience of racing fans and video gamers, and created a following that has slowly kept growing to this day.
Of the over 650 vehicles included in Gran Turismo 2, from road-going production vehicles to some of the most iconic race cars of the 20th century, there were a grand total of 24 officially licensed JGTC cars from both the GT500 and GT300 classes. 20 of which were from the 1999 season that concluded just before GT2 released in December of the same year.
Those who spent hours upon hours playing GT2 and its sequels, even the ones who had never seen a real JGTC/Super GT race or even heard of the series from whence they came, know the cars by heart. The bright yellow Pennzoil NISMO Skyline GT-R, driven by Érik Comas to the 1999 GT500 championship, for instance. Or the Castrol TOM’s Toyota Supra, piloted by the legendary Masanori Sekiya to second place in the championship that year.
There’s a few cars in GT2 whose teams and sponsors are still around today: The Denso SARD Supra, the Raybrig Honda NSX, the Calsonic Impul Skyline GT-R – they became iconic cars of their time, and their colours are still recognizable to this day for their respective teams, even as their cars have changed and evolved over the years.
From GT300, there were slightly fewer cars, but all still unique in their own way – the WedsSport Toyota Celica, the Cusco Subaru Impreza, the RE Amemiya Mazda RX-7, the BP Kraft Sprinter Trueno, just to name a few.
Through Gran Turismo‘s racing modification upgrades, a few other cars could be transformed into recreations of other JGTC challengers. Take the Toyota MR2, for instance, which can be extensively modified into the record-breaking 1998 Tsuchiya Engineering MR2 that dominated the GT300 class.
There’s a true larger-than-life feeling in the way that the JGTC machines perform in GT2, likely down to the limitations of the original PlayStation’s hardware, but it’s still astonishing to see the GT500 Nissan Skyline GT-Rs top the power scales at over 700 horsepower – over 200 HP more than their real-life counterparts!
Gran Turismo 2’s massive single-player campaign mode – all 40+ hours’ worth of it, the largest of any racing game available at the time – featured a five-round championship series for both the GT500 and GT300 classes.
JGTC staple circuits like Suzuka, Fuji, and Motegi weren’t a part of the game. In fact, there was only one licensed circuit – California’s historic Laguna Seca Raceway. Laguna Seca has never hosted and will likely never host a Super GT race, but their cars feel right at home on the technical, undulating road course.
One of the strengths of the early Gran Turismo games were the plethora of original circuits. Fantasy road courses like Grand Valley Speedway and Apricot Hill Raceway would make a perfect fit on the Super GT calendar if they existed in the real world.
There’s never been a street race in Super GT before, but GT2’s street courses in Rome, Seattle, or the fictional Special Stage Route 5, a love letter to the bustling Japanese urban expressways, would all make great venues.
As the Gran Turismo series evolved and progressed throughout the years, onto the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and eventually the PlayStation 4, the JGTC and Super GT experience became more true-to-life. Newer cars were added in over time, as were authentic circuits Suzuka, Fuji, and Motegi, and even authentic events, like the Suzuka 1000km. Gran Turismo 5 even had a “Gran Turismo TV” video storefront that let you purchase and download actual Super GT races up through 2012!
But, it can be reasonably argued that with its robust and up-to-date roster of vehicles, that Gran Turismo 2 still provides one of the best, if not the best, JGTC/Super GT experiences in the series despite what it lacks elsewhere. When GT5 came out in 2010, for instance, the vast selection of the game’s newest Super GT cars were already at least two years old. Gran Turismo 6 only added three new cars that weren’t already in GT5.
And even though it wasn’t the first video game to feature the cars of the JGTC, GT2 completely blew away any of the other games on the market at the time from a gameplay standpoint. Heck, it’s still one of the more enjoyable Gran Turismo games to replay even in 2017, with six main installments of the series and a seventh on the way spanning four generations of consoles.
Gran Turismo 2 is worth playing today for so many different reasons. It’s a genuinely fun, engaging racing game with depth and longevity that surpasses most modern racing titles. And for the Super GT fan, new or old, it’s absolutely worth taking a trip down memory lane to play GT2, just to drive the many cars that were the stars of the series’ first golden era.