Writing this review ten years later, racing games haven't brought a lot more to the genre than what GT did back in 1997.
The first challenge with this game when I payed it was figuring out why the car won't do what I tell it. For example, it kept spinning around in the gravel. The second part was discovering that you could convert all your bronze licences into gold ones after a considerable amount of invested effort. Moreover, this effort was not only satisfying for the very first time, it offered very tangible rewards in terms of bragging rights. A third reason for loving this game was that it offered a special model vehicle for a very large number of credits (five hundred thousand for any manufacturer back then) which you could 'earn' by 'proving yourself.' This special model vehicle was not just a sure shot promise for winning every single conceivable race (except for the 'normal car championship', but then again that was also the most effective way for getting to the special model), it was also a great excuse to take up racing games and get really, really good at them.
So it had a convincing enough driving model and an great sense of economy and a good performance-feedback system. What was it that made it so special? Well, it had real cars that I'd seen on the road and heard of. It also had cars I hadn't heard of. It had some pretty decent BGM tracks. What was the greatest thing about this game? It had an impartiality to the way you chose to play the game itself, something I've failed to see in so many other modern titles. It introduced you to an idea, and then let you discover it on your own without handholding your way through the entire thing. It was fair when you sucked, and it was rewarding where it mattered. Few games in my experience have appreciated the gamers who play them in quite the same way. And few games have led to the realisation that in the accomplishment of a given task, the greatest enemy you can find is your own self-doubt.