5 Reasons Why You Must Watch The 2019 FIA Gran Turismo Championship Finals
This is going to be fun!
The FIA Gran Turismo World Tour comes to a thrilling conclusion this weekend in Monaco, bringing the season’s fast, frenetic action to an end as Brazil’s Igor Fraga defends his Nations Cup crown from last year. There are plenty of other stories to follow this weekend, though, so here are a few reasons why you should check it out whether you’re a long-time fan or new to the whole scene.
1. Manufacturer or country: The choice is yours
Getting involved in the world of Gran Turismo Sport as a spectator is easy, especially in comparison to most other esports. If you look at something like Overwatch, Rocket League or Rainbow Six: Siege – as successful and entertaining as these esports are – they all feature made-up teams and franchises, which may make it hard for a newcomer to find and support a team in the professional competitions. Gran Turismo Sport suffers from no such burden. The game’s professional league, known as the Gran Turismo World Tour, is backed by the same group that governs many of the world’s premier motorsport events (namely, the FIA), and so it’s run in much the same way.
There are two different competitions in Gran Turismo Sport: the Manufacturer Series and the Nations Cup. The Manufacturer Series is a team-oriented event, with many familiar marques — Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche and Subaru to name a few — taking up a stake in the event. Each team has three drivers who work together and make swaps during pit stops, ensuring that each of them has a chance behind the wheel. This gives rise to a layer of strategy that you wouldn’t expect to see in a racing game, but having decades of motorsporting history involved ensures that the event has a layer of prestige to it; if you’re a fan of a particular manufacturer, you’ll likely be able to follow them in the Manufacturer Series as they look to write another page to their history books.
Running completely separate from the Manufacturer Series is the Nations Cup, an individual event where drivers look to secure glory for their home country. Even though you may have two drivers from the same nation, it’s still every competitor for themselves. The Nations Cup is where a driver’s true mettle is tested, as they will have to formulate their entire strategy on their own. The hometown drivers always get a huge ovation when they win an event, such as the one Japan’s Ryota Kokubun received after his victory at the most recent leg of the tour in Tokyo.
Whichever of the two events you watch, you’re sure to be treated to some of the most competitive action behind the wheel of a car, even more than what you might see on an actual racetrack.
2. A competition format that keeps things intriguing
Gran Turismo Sport’s events are run in more of a traditional sporting arrangement, instead of emulating other esport competitions. In other esports, you’ll often find formats like best-of-five or even best-of-seven series in each round. It’s not uncommon to have 3-0 matchups, and most of these matches can feel like dead rubbers. This isn’t so much a crack at the games themselves, but more the way in which their professional competitions are run.
Should the FIA repeat last year’s format, this weekend’s finals will be contested between 16 of the game’s top drivers, competing over four races. Each race is held under different conditions, with different circuits and cars. Gran Turismo Sport uses a special element called “Balance of Performance”, which adds power and weight handicaps to cars at the top of each specific class; this ensures that the grid is pretty close to equal, and ensures that the races aren’t decided before the cars have left the starting line.
Also worth noting is the fact that the final race in this format offers double points, meaning that the winner is far from decided — just ask Japan’s Tomoaki Yamanaka, whose poor finish in the final race of the tournament saw him go from eight points clear of his closest competitor in three races to failing to finish in the top three after the fourth was decided. If last year’s championship decider is anything to go by, this year’s series will be exciting and intense.
3. The next chapter of the epic Hizal-Fraga rivalry
Sports are always good with a rivalry, and the FIA Gran Turismo Championships are no exception. Although there are plenty of outstanding drivers on the scene — and set to compete this weekend — there are two who stand head and shoulders above the rest: Germany’s Mikail Hizal and Brazil’s defending champion Igor Fraga. The pair frequently end up duking it out at the top of the standings when they’re in a race together, and Fraga has the upper hand given his victory in last year’s tournament final in Monaco.
Their rivalry has always been fun to watch, but an incident during the final race at this year’s New York event has taken it to a whole new level. Fraga appeared to slow down as he came out of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit’s famous Eau Rouge sweep and onto Kemmel Straight (typically a very quick sector of the track), inviting Hizal to make a move that resulted in the pair making contact and forcing Hizal wide into Les Combes. The move kept Fraga in second place and Hizal in third, although they were effectively battling for first and second as race leader Coque López still needed to pit once more.
Hizal is normally known as the cool, calm and collected type – the “smooth operator”, if you will – who rarely shows much emotion and prides himself on clean and honest racing, but he was visibly annoyed with Fraga’s tactics, sarcastically declaring that he would prefer to win “in a dirty way” if it helped him win a World Tour event. Both drivers have automatically qualified for the finals this weekend, adding a bit of extra spice to the weekend’s action.
4. Can another driver step up on the biggest stage?
While Hizal and Fraga usually dominate the headlines, there are plenty of other talking points on the rest of the grid. Every driver who participates in this weekend’s event is super sharp; they are the best of the best, and so the question is whether any of them can fight off the nerves, stand up on the big stage and make some history of their own.
Ryota Kokobun automatically earned himself a spot in this weekend’s finals after finishing on top of the standings at the most recent event in Tokyo. He has been threatening for a number of events now, and his improvement in 2019 has been immeasurable. Likewise, his compatriot Takuma Miyazono almost pulled off a wonderful strategy earlier this year after a first-lap pit stop, and so he very much remains a wild card.
Australian Cody Nikola Latkovski very much remains a threat, regularly finishing in the top half of the grid. He has a very aggressive driving style, and while that means he does get his fair share of penalties — such as the 10-second penalty he was given in the final in New York — he does get a lot out of his car and will definitely be a strong contender this weekend.
Coque López has also been extremely consistent, usually finishing about in the upper half of the grid but has typically found himself just shy of the podium places (though he has placed in a few races). This weekend’s finals would be a great time for him to take that next step and secure a championship victory. That is also the case for the Chilean driver Nicolás Rubilar, who won in the first leg of this year’s tour but has struggled for form since then.
Most of the eyes will be on Fraga and Hizal, though, and that might just take enough of the pressure off the rest of the grid to see someone new claim this year’s crown.
5. Lamborghini headlines a weekend of potential reveals
Similar to other esports, the Gran Turismo Championships have been used to demo content that is soon to be released. By watching this weekend’s championships, you’ll get the chance to see what’s coming out soon on Gran Turismo Sport, including new cars and tracks.
What makes Gran Turismo Sport’s content so special is its exclusive “Vision Gran Turismo” (VGT) cars. These specially-crafted concept vehicles defy the limits of what real cars can do, and the next manufacturer to introduce a VGT car is Lamborghini; that car is scheduled to be unveiled at this weekend’s event, and my money is on it making an appearance during Sunday’s Nations Cup competition.
The game has been used to debut other vehicles as well. This year’s events have also seen the Jaguar VGT Coupe, announced at the Tokyo show, and the Porsche Taycan, an all-electric high-performance car that was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show rather than at a World Tour event — which just goes to show how strong the Gran Turismo brand’s reputation still is throughout the motoring world after all of these years.
Since this is the biggest weekend in the Championship calendar, I don’t think that the Lamborghini VGT announcement alone will be enough to satisfy fans. I don’t think that there’ll be another surprise announcement as far as cars go — that would overshadow the Lamborghini reveal — but it’s worth noting that this is Polyphony Digital’s last chance to make any kind of a surprise announcement before next year’s World Tour kicks off, so I expect that there might be a new track or two announced as well.
Considering the fact that it’s part of the PlayStation Hits lineup and still has a regular cycle of free updates, there really has never been a better time to get yourself invested in Gran Turismo Sport both as a game and as an esport. On top of that, everyone who plays the game is eligible to take part in Manufacturer Series and Nations’ Cup qualifying events, so who knows — if you’re fast enough, you might just be on the World Tour grid come next year.