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Why a SUPER GT Star Still Competes On Gran Turismo

You’d have thought that competing in both SUPER GT and Super Formula Lights championships would be frantic enough for Igor Fraga, but the 25-year-old driver also found the time to participate in the world finals of another (virtual) motorsport competition in 2023 – the Gran Turismo World Series.

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Fraga made his racing debut for the Anest Iwata Racing with Arnage squad in April alongside team-mates Yuga Furutani and Miki Koyama, the first women driver in the championship for over a decade.

“We work well together, but also the situation I think creates the need to help each other more because all three drivers are rookies in SUPER GT and also the team is new,” explains Fraga of his Lexus RC F GT3 campaign.

“We are not in a place, for example, where we have a shot to win every weekend, so we have to put all our strength together to keep moving forward.”

The GT300 season was fraught, with highs including scoring the team’s first-ever points in the fifth round, but also the challenge of trying to improve against such formidable opponents.

“We improved the car a lot and were able to qualify many times inside the top 10,” explains the Japanese-born Brazilian.

“The pace at Suzuka was especially strong and we had a good chance to get points. We got better and better [through the season] and in particular with managing tyre wear.

“In SUPER GT we have a large difference in tyre compounds that you can freely choose. So you must find out which one suits your car the best and work the strategy from there without much time to test each one.”

Adjacent to the V8-engined coupe programme was a return to single-seaters, netting one race win, a pole position, six podiums and fourth in the Lights standings.

Fraga explains that a mid-season slump impacted an otherwise extremely positive season:

“I think in Super Formula Lights, we have to be very sensitive on the corner entries as the amount of downforce is strong and the car doesn't have too much horsepower. So you must try to keep your minimum speed high.

“We had some good showings this year, I could win a race as well as claiming podiums. But we struggled a little bit with the rear grip around mid-to-low-speed corners in the middle of the season.”

Bridging the real world and the virtual, Furutani, Koyama and Fraga's Lexus RC F is available to drive within the Gran Turismo 7 video game.

Bridging the real world and the virtual, Furutani, Koyama and Fraga's Lexus RC F is available to drive within the Gran Turismo 7 video game.

However, in between motorsport events, Fraga was hard at work qualifying for the Gran Turismo World Series. For the uninitiated, this is a yearly competition for the world’s quickest drivers within the sim racing video game Gran Turismo 7.

Across three categories, it culminates in two in-person live events. This year a ‘Showdown’ in Amsterdam and the World Finals in Barcelona, which was completed earlier this month.

Fraga kept his immaculate record of making it to the final of at least one Gran Turismo competition ever since the World Series began – six years, six finals and four titles.

When asked why he still participates, despite a busy schedule, he explains that the level playing field that developer Polyphony Digital creates is a major draw:

“I think it's the competition itself. Compared to real-world racing, for example, on the sim, if you're running the same cars [as your rivals] it’s the exact same car.

“In motorsport, you are dependent on your team, the engineers and the mechanics. In Gran Turismo World Series, it's about the driving, it's about your skill. I think [in the real world] the happiness that you feel is a little bit different because you won as a team, which is special of course.

“But in terms of like, ‘I won it’, Gran Turismo makes you feel like you fully deserve it.”

Igor Fraga (left) with the Brazilian Gran Turismo World Series Nations Cup team. Amsterdam, 2023

Photo by: Gran Turismo World Series / Sony

Igor Fraga (left) with the Brazilian Gran Turismo World Series Nations Cup team. Amsterdam, 2023

Adding to that feeling of satisfaction is knowing that the championship is open to anyone with a copy of the game and a PlayStation. When he claimed the inaugural Nations Cups event in 2018, he’d beaten every single other Gran Turismo entrant in the world.

It was a crowning achievement that followed over 20 years of playing the popular virtual driving title alongside a motorsport career. For Fraga, the two are intrinsically linked.

“When I was three years old, I went to watch a karting race,” remembers the former F1 Esports competitor.

“My parents told me that I was excited about it, but they were afraid to put me straight into the real thing. So they bought me Gran Turismo 3 on the PlayStation 2 with a very simple steering wheel.

“It was for me to learn what the throttle and brake do, the basic controls. As soon as I started to drive a little bit better then they put me into the real stuff. I won seven karting championships in Japan and also the Asian Championship in 2008. But then the financial crisis came, so in 2009 I stopped racing and in 2011 moved to Brazil.”

In total, his motorsport career was paused for six years aside from karting track visits on weekends. During weekdays, he was allowed one hour per day of Gran Turismo to stay sharp.

In 2014, entry into the air-cooled Formula V series restarted motorsport ambitions, followed by championships such as Brazilian Formula 3, America’s USF2000, FIA Formula 3 and beating the likes of Liam Lawson, Franco Colapinto and Yuki Tsunoda to the 2020 Toyota Racing Series title.

An earlier opportunity was the then Gran Turismo Academy competition, whereby the quickest virtual drivers entered a shootout for Nissan-backed real-world drives – recently highlighted by the Gran Turismo Movie, portraying Jann Mardenborough's career.

“I gave [GT Academy] a shot in the US,” reveals Fraga.

“It was not in my region, so I created an American account. I was quick enough and went to the first qualifying event, but as I was not American, didn’t have a visa and was underage. It was a ‘no’ for me.

“But that was the first time this game switched from a hobby to something I wanted to achieve something with. I think it took me around one year to start to get into the top 10 on the leaderboards. After competing in USF2000 came the very first Gran Turismo World Series events.”

While the prize for winning a Gran Turismo competition is no longer a drive Nissan-funded career, succeeding at Sony’s flagship racing game has helped provide this season’s Super Formula Lights drive.

The World Series uses Fanatec sim racing steering wheels, and keen to see a crossover between the two worlds, the German gaming equipment manufacturer sponsored Fraga, as he explains:

“I think Gran Turismo and Fanatec together is a good way to show that we are blurring the lines between sim and motorsport. I'm very appreciative that they keep believing and supporting me, because, without them, I was not getting the Lights seat.”

Igora Fraga during a Gran Turismo World Series practice session, 2023

Photo by: Thomas Harrison-Lord

Igora Fraga during a Gran Turismo World Series practice session, 2023

At the 2023 Gran Turismo World Series finals, the stalwart participated in a reduced programme, focussing only on the Nations Cups competition which for the first time ran a new format with three drivers per team.

Representing Brazil, Fraga alongside compatriots Lucas Bonelli and Adriano Carrazza, netted a podium finish with third overall. It followed a highly strategic final race around a Spa-Francorchamps recreation, won by Spanish drivers Jose Serrano, Coque López and Pol Urra in front of a rapturous home crowd.

As for what 2024 may hold, plans are still being worked on. Will Fraga return for a seventh year of racing game competition?

“I don’t know actually, because real-world racing has been very busy. Being able to keep a consistent level has been good.

“But that level will keep rising and I have to try and follow. I don’t know if the time [constraints] will allow me to do it. We’ll see…”

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