What’s fact and what’s fiction in ‘Gran Turismo,’ about a real-life gamer turned racer

A man in a helmet races a car competitively.
Archie Madekwe in the movie “Gran Turismo.”
(Gordon Timpen)

Jann Mardenborough never imagined his life would become a film, let alone one based on a popular video game. But instead of creating a fictional tale set in the world of racing, Neill Blomkamp’s “Gran Turismo” is a sports biopic that depicts Mardenborough’s real-life journey from bedroom gamer to driving champion.

Written by Jason Hall and Zach Baylin, “Gran Turismo” follows Jann (Archie Madekwe) as he triumphs at Nissan’s GT Academy and becomes an unlikely professional race-car driver. While the timeline has been condensed and some characters are fictionalized, the film largely adheres to Mardenborough’s experiences.

“The gist of it was to tell my true story,” Mardenborough, 31, says. “Of course, they told me it’s not a documentary where they take footage from archived footage from racing. It’s a biopic, so they said there would be parts that would be more dramatized. But a lot of this really happened.”


In 2019, Hall and Baylin flew to London and spent several days getting to know Mardenborough, who was involved in each draft of the script leading up to production in late 2022. He had two stipulations: that the actor playing him would look like him and that the film use his real name.

“They wanted to do it right,” he says. “So it was just about making sure I gave them all the relevant information.”

Here’s what’s true and what’s not true in “Gran Turismo.”

An unlikely competitor

A race-car driver wears a white, heavily sponsored jumpsuit.
The real-life Jann Mardenborough, photographed in 2015.
(Zak Mauger / Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images)

At 19, Mardenborough’s life had hit a roadblock. He was living in his parents’ house in Wales and working a retail job. Much of his spare time was spent playing “Gran Turismo,” which he had started playing at 8. He estimates he averaged two hours a day, but doesn’t feel like it was “obsessive.”

The film accurately showcases how Mardenborough discovered he was eligible for a qualification race to join the GT Academy and was successful in the race.

“GT Academy was the first-ever competition-timed trial I’d ever done,” Mardenborough says. “I don’t find them enjoyable — it’s not my thing. I love to race against real people around the world. It was the first one I did and I won. The film does a very good job of really laying down the foundations correctly.”


Early in the film, before he scores a spot in the GT Academy, Jann and his brother go on the run from the police after leaving a party. That scene, which Blomkamp augments with visual aspects of the racing simulator, didn’t occur, but was inspired by real events.

“Nothing exactly like that happened,” Mardenborough says. “But there have been, in my late teens, prior interactions with the establishment. I won’t go into much detail, but yeah, I wasn’t a saint.”

Family ties

Mardenborough’s father, Steve, played in the film by Djimon Hounsou, was a successful English soccer player for several decades. He played for numerous teams in England’s Football League and later played in the Welsh Premier League. Steve wanted to pass his beloved sport onto his two sons, but only Mardenborough’s younger brother Coby took to the game, as the film portrays.

“I was introduced to football when I was very young and I had no interest,” Mardenborough says. “I’m someone who’s very headstrong and I know what I like and I know what I dislike — and I disliked football. I didn’t have the footballer’s brain so I could never connect with what my father and brother were talking about at the dinner table.”

After Mardenborough was accepted into the GT Academy competition, he shared the news with his family.

“They were watching football at the time time and they turned their heads to me and said ‘Righto’ and then continued to watch the football,” Mardenborough says. “In the movie, it’s a bit more exaggerated, the distance that my father had with me. As soon as I started racing he was a lot more onboard than what the movie shows. But it was like that for a long time with my father.”


Learning to drive

A man in a white shirt and a headset speaks to a driver.
Orlando Bloom in the movie “Gran Turismo.”
(Gordon Timpen)

“Gran Turismo” depicts Jann’s experience at the first-ever GT Academy, as conceived by fictional Nissan executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom). The inaugural academy actually took place in 2008, with Lucas Ordóñez as the victor, and was conceived by Darren Cox. Mardenborough was part of the third annual GT Academy in 2011.

In the film, Jann is one of 10 competitors who take on a series of challenging training exercises, culminating in a race to determine which of them will represent Nissan as a driver. In reality, Mardenborough spent a week at the academy and says it was “more intense” than what’s depicted on screen.

“It’s like being on ‘Big Brother,’ ” he says. “You’re constantly being watched and filmed. The movie shows the ranking of the drivers because the viewer needs to know, but in reality you don’t know how you’re doing compared to the others. There are also a few things they didn’t show, like how I flew an airplane as part of the academy.”

Early on in his training, Jann develops a relationship with Jack Salter (David Harbour), a former driver who runs the GT Academy. Jack becomes Jann’s trainer and helps to guide him through a series of races leading up to Le Mans. Jack is a fictional character who was loosely based on Ricardo Divila, Mardenborough’s former engineer. Mardenborough began working with Divila, who died in 2020, after completing the academy.

“There was a lot of noise aaround me and a lot of hype,” Mardenborough says. “I don’t really care for spectacle — I just want to drive really cool racing cars as fast as I can. [Ricardo] was somebody who was straight down the line as well. He was the first person to give me responsibility, where others treated me with kid gloves. My performance as a driver really rocketed when I was around him.”


Following his success at the GT Academy, Jann embarks on a series of races to earn his FIA International C license. For the film, this sequence of events was slightly altered and some of the race names, including the Dubai 24 Hour, were changed.

“In real life, we have to compete in, I think, 12 races and complete those races successfully in order to be eligible for this license,” Mardenborough says. “It wasn’t like I could just drive around in the back and qualify for the license. You have to perform and compete at the highest level possible. The movie shows that I have to finish fourth, but in reality I’m always trying to go for the win, as I was back then.”

Racing for real

A man in a race car concentrates.
The real-life Jann Mardenborough
(Sam Bloxham / Formula 1 / Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images)

Blomkamp used multiple real-world courses, including the Slovakia Ring, the Dubai Autodrome, the Nürburgring, the Red Bull Ring in Austria and the Hungaroring. Actual race cars were customized so they could go at racing speed while filming. The Hungaroring was one of the primary locations, doubling for the GT Academy (a fictional course inspired by England’s Silverstone) and the famed Le Mans.

Multiple stunt drivers were brought in for the sequences, and Mardenborough himself served as Madekwe’s stunt driver.

“Maybe six months before filming they said, ‘It would be cool if we could get Jann to play himself,’” Mardenborough says. “We did so much in-car action. Because of the way that Neill wanted the film shot, we had to go in at speed. We had over 20 race cars at our disposal — it was like a rolling circus going from racetrack to racetrack.”


In 2015, Mardenborough competed in the VLN endurance race at the Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany. His car bounced from the track at the Flugplatz section, which resulted in the death of a spectator. In the film, the crash occurs much earlier in Jann’s career and causes him to almost quit. Mardenborough calls it “the darkest, lowest moments of my personal life and also career,” but felt it was essential for the story.

“If it wasn’t in the film it would do the viewer a disservice,” Mardenborough says. “It would come across like: You can achieve success as long as you have your friends and family and there’s no real downfall. But that’s not my life. There’s always tremendous highs with tremendous lows.”

Placing at Le Mans

A racing crew watches with excitement.
A scene from “Gran Turismo.”
(Gordon Timpen)

“Gran Turismo” culminates with Jann competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. In the film, he races on a team with two of his fellow GT Academy members. They place third, earning a spot on the podium, which is accurate to Mardenborough’s career.

“It would have been easy for them to go, ‘Ah well, you finished third in real life, but we’re just going to put it as first because because it’s a movie,’” Mardenborough says. “I really liked that they stuck with the truth. And I’m not satisfied with finishing third. My goal is to go back to Le Mans next year and win it outright.”