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Gran Turismo vs. the True Story of Jann Mardenborough


Archie Madekwe
Born: February 10, 1995
Lambeth, London, England, UK

Jann Mardenborough
Born: September 9, 1991
Birthplace: Darlington, England, UK

David Harbour
Born: April 10, 1975
White Plains, New York, USA

Johnny Herbert
Born: June 25, 1964
Birthplace: Brentwood, Essex, England, UK
Bio: GT Academy Mentor | Renamed Jack Salter in the Movie

Orlando Bloom
Born: January 13, 1977
Canterbury, Kent, England, UK

Darren Cox
Born: 1974
Birthplace: Newmarket, Suffolk, England, UK
Bio: Nissan Europe Executive who Conceived GT Academy | He is renamed Danny Moore in the film.

Djimon Hounsou
Born: April 24, 1964
Cotonou, Benin

Steve Mardenborough
Born: September 11, 1964
Birthplace: Birmingham, England, UK
Bio: Jann Mardenborough's Father | Former Professional Soccer Player

Geri Horner
Born: August 6, 1972
Watford, Hertfordshire, England, UK

Lesley Mardenborough
Birthplace: UK
Bio: Jann Mardenborough's Mother

Historical Accuracy (Q&A):

How can the Gran Turismo movie be based on a true story?

Unlike other video game adaptations (think Uncharted, The Last of Us, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Tomb Raider, etc.), Gran Turismo does not tell a story that is drawn from the world of the game itself. Instead, its plot is based on the real story of a teenage Gran Turismo player named Jann Mardenborough, who wins a series of video game competitions sponsored by Nissan. His success earns him the chance to get behind the wheel of a real race car to see if he can translate his skill playing the PlayStation video game into success on an actual racetrack. Mardenborough is portrayed by actor Archie Madekwe in the movie, which is directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9).

The real Jann Mardenborough (left) at home behind the wheel of his custom gaming setup. Archie Madekwe depicts Mardenborough in the movie.

Did Jann Mardenborough's mother threaten to shut off their Internet connection to stop him from playing Gran Turismo so much?

Like in the movie, Jann's mother, Lesley Mardenborough, who is portrayed by Geri Horner (aka Ginger Spice), did argue with her son over his addiction to the racing game. It's true that she threatened to turn off their Internet connection to get him to stop playing. "My parents were like, 'You need to get a job, Jann. You need to go and find something else to do better with your life.' It was just pure coincidence and luck really I think that GT Academy came around at the right time for me to enter and commit to it a hundred percent," he told Trans World Sport. He first became aware of GT Academy when he was 19 and saw it "on a normal TV advert" (Sony Pictures Entertainment).

"I just booted up my PlayStation one morning, and there was a new menu, GT Academy tryouts," Jann told ESPN. He entered the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy and began competing at home using his custom-made gaming setup that featured a steering wheel and racing seat (pictured below).

Was Jann Mardenborough's father a former professional soccer player?

Yes. A Gran Turismo fact-check reveals that Jann's father, Steve Mardenborough, is a former professional soccer player who participated in over 300 games in the Football League during his career. Actor Djimon Hounsou (Amistad, Gladiator) portrays Steve Mardenborough in the Gran Turismo movie.

When did Jann Mardenborough win the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy?

Jann became a finalist in Nissan's GT 'Gran Turismo' Academy online racing competition in 2011 at age 19, competing against 90,000 other Gran Turismo players for a chance to get behind the wheel of an actual race car in a real motorsport race. He became the GT Academy's third and youngest winner. "The prize was to have a funded year, with Nissan providing your racing," said Mardenborough, plus the opportunity for more. The prize included competing for Nissan in the Dubai 24 Hour Race. Mardenborough finished 3rd in his class in the 2012 Dubai 24 Hour as part of an all-gamer team. -The Drive

Prior to winning Nissan's GT Academy at age 19, is it true that Jann Mardenborough had no prior real-world racing experience?

Yes. Born in Darlington, Jann was raised in Cardiff after his family moved there when his father, professional soccer player Steve Mardenborough, switched teams. A shy and introverted child growing up, Jann applied for Nissan's GT Academy as something he could focus on during a gap year before studying design and engineering at a local university. In answering the question, "How accurate is the Gran Turismo movie?" we learned that, according to The Telegraph, Jann had never done any real-world racing prior to GT Academy, except for a bit of go-kart racing. He started karting at the age of 8, but the local track closed when he was 11 and his parents didn't have the money to continue to pay for the sport. His lack of real-world experience makes his story unique, in that most motorsport drivers begin racing at a younger age.

The real Jann Mardenborough is pictured above driving his Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 race car. Photo:

Was Jann Mardenborough mentored by a former Formula One driver?

Yes. While dissecting the Gran Turismo fact vs. fiction, we discovered that Mardenborough was mentored by Johnny Herbert, a former Formula One driver who competed from 1989 to 2000, winning three races. Herbert raced other cars as well. In 1991, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Mazda 787B. He met Jann Mardenborough when he mentored the UK finalists of GT Academy 2011 who were featured in the reality TV series that followed their efforts to go from playing the Gran Turismo video games to competing in the Dubai 24 Hour Race as real drivers. David Harbour's character, Jack Salter, is a fictionalized version of Johnny Herbert.

Jann Mardenborough (left) was the first British winner of GT Academy. Actor Archie Madekwe (right) portrays him in the movie.

Is Orlando Bloom's character in Gran Turismo, Danny Moore, based on a real person?

Yes. Orlando Bloom's character is a fictionalized version of Darren Cox, a former Nissan Europe executive who came up with the idea for the GT Academy gamer-to-racer concept in 2006. Cox believed that the realism of the Sony PlayStation Gran Turismo video game might mean that expert gamers would be able to translate their skill to a real-life track behind the wheel of an actual race car. A small event was held in 2006 to test Cox's concept. Participants competed in the video game, as well as on an actual track in hopes of winning a Nissan 350Z. Cox's vision leveled up with the founding of the Nissan GT Academy in 2008, a competition and reality TV series funded by both Nissan and PlayStation. Participants competed for a shot at a real-life professional racing career with Nissan.

"Everybody was skeptical," Darren Cox told ESPN. "They said, 'Just because a guy is good at Tiger Woods Golf does not mean he's gonna go and win The Masters.'"

During his 13 years at Nissan, Darren Cox was in charge of a number of other innovative projects, including the Nissan Deltawing, the ZEOD RC, and the GT-R LM NISMO P1. After leaving Nissan in 2015, he founded a new project rooted in video games called eSPORTS+CARS, which is the first professional esports racing team. "The eSPORTS+CARS Racing Team is a first step in professionalizing motorsport in the virtual world," he told AutoHebdo. "We want to use the team to shine a light on the huge opportunity that is virtual motorsport, and we will do this by trying to take the approach of the best teams and brands in the real world of motorsport."

Did Jann Mardenborough achieve a podium spot at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race?

Yes. A Gran Turismo fact-check confirms that Mardenborough made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in 2013, finishing third in the LMP2 class. The endurance-based race is considered to be the most grueling in all of motorsport. The 24 Hours of Le Mans was previously featured in the 2019 biographical sports drama film Ford v Ferrari.

Jann Mardenborough and his teammates celebrate their third-place finish in the LMP2 class at the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Were there any female competitors in the GT Academy?

Yes, but the first female to become a finalist didn't happen until 2016 when Filipina racer Elysse Menorca traveled to the United Kingdom to compete. This was several years after Jann Mardenborough won the competition. Ultimately, Menorca's run was cut short.

When did Jann Mardenborough win his first race?

In answering, "Is Gran Turismo accurate?" we learned that Mardenborough's first win was in July 2014 at Hockenheimring in Germany when he was competing in the GP3 Series, the former feeder series to Formula One. He was racing for the Arden International team at the time as part of Red Bull's junior program.

The real Jann Mardenborough is pictured next to the actor who portrays him, Archie Madekwe.

Was Jann Mardenborough involved in a deadly crash?

Yes. On March 28, 2015, while racing in his GT3-class Nissan GT-R NISMO at the Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany, his car began to lift off the ground in the Flugplatz section. As shown in the images below, his Nissan was vertical when it hit the wall at an estimated speed of 125 mi/h and cartwheeled over the main catch fence and along a hill where spectators were located. In an effort to protect himself, it's true that Mardenborough removed his hands from the steering wheel as his car tumbled out of control. It came to a stop on its roof against the fence. One spectator, a 49-year-old Dutchman named Andy Gehrmann, was killed and several others were injured. According to Road & Track, there was a secondary fence to keep spectators away from the main catch fence, but fans had circumvented it for a better view, something that happens often at the Nürburgring.

Jann Mardenborough's car goes vertical in real life (left) and in the movie (right) at the start of his horrific crash.

Several months later during an interview with Telegraph Sport, Mardenborough spoke publicly for the first time about the crash.
It's tough to talk about it. You've got to do your job and move on from it. And to do my job I have to put things in their place and move forward. You never get in the car expecting these things to happen or wanting them to happen, but surprises can happen.

It's not something I would want anybody to experience. But the risks are there, the risks are real in motorsport. At times these are the risks we have doing a sport we love and a sport people love to come and see. It's not like a normal incident. There is a way of dealing with it.

Mardenborough turned to fellow driver Allan McNish for counsel. In 1990, McNish was in a crash at Donington that killed a bystander. Nissan too understood the risks that came with the sport. They didn't want Mardenborough's trauma and guilt over the accident to consume him, so they put him in a Formula Renault in Pembrey, Carmarthenshire a week after the crash to help shift his focus. Two years later, he said that he feels "massive guilt" for the loss of life. -The Telegraph

The Nürburgring has claimed the lives of 70 drivers in competition and was the site of Niki Lauda's infamous 1976 crash that left him badly burned. The track, which is often open to the public, has claimed the lives of even more civilian drivers over the years, with somewhere between three and twelve people dying each year (the total number is unknown).

Was Jann Mardenborough involved in the making of the Gran Turismo movie?

Yes. While examining the Gran Turismo fact vs. fiction, we learned that during an absence from racing, Mardenborough spent most of 2022 assisting with the production of the movie. In fact, Mardenborough was a stunt driver in the movie. "I think this may be the first film ever where there's a film being made about someone's life and they are stunt driving in the film," said star Archie Madekwe. -Sony Pictures Entertainment

Jann Mardenborough is pictured on the set of the Gran Turismo movie directed by Neill Blomkamp.

Does the Nissan GT Academy competition still exist?

No. While investigating the true story, we discovered that the reality TV series that pitted expert Gran Turismo players against one another for a chance to earn a real-life racing career with Nissan existed from 2008 to 2016. It was funded by Nissan and Sony Interactive Entertainment.