February 26, 2024

Fact and fiction are separated in the Gran Turismo film

The Gran Turismo film combines elements of Rocky with bits of Top Gun, but is it based on a true story?

Gran Turismo is one of the most popular racing games in history. And in 2023 it was made into a movie starring Orlando Bloom and David Harbour.

Saltburn star Archie Madekwe plays protagonist Jann Mardenborough, a gamer who wins a competition to drive real racing cars for Nissan. And the story is true: Jann becomes a member of the GT Academy and can make his dream come true.

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You can read our review here, while we sort fact and fiction in the film below. Spoilers follow…

The true story of Gran Turismo explained

Below, we’ve taken apart and fact-checked the moments and characters from the Gran Turismo film. We’ll say this: Some of it is pretty bang-up, but there are notable made-up additions and timeline changes that have already been the subject of controversy.

Jack Salter is not a real person

Sony photos

David Harbor plays Jack Salter, a gruff, failed racer hired by Danny Moore to run the GT Academy. However, he’s not even a real person; he is a fictional creation.

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It seems he was somewhat inspired by Gavin Gough, an NLP and sports hypnosis practitioner who Mardenborough met at the academy. “The ripple effect of that conversation was significant. During day 5 of GTAcademy, Gav flipped a switch as I sat down at Silverstone. My performance then skyrocketed,” the real Mardenborough tweeted.

Harbor isn’t bothered by the film’s accuracy. “Our story has its own specific arc, its own specific style and its own specific undercurrents of what this man does and who he is. I feel like when you talk to real people you don’t get as powerful an arc,” he told Digital Spy.

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“Our lives don’t necessarily match the way a character’s life does. Sometimes they are tragic in their unpredictable nonsense, in contrast to their beautiful poetic touch. I don’t find that real research as useful as my own personal work.”

In our interview with Darren Cox, he said that Salter is a “combination of three or four people… there was a guy named Ricardo Davila who was a car designer… an absolute legend, and he was an engineer. There is a team manager, a man called Bob Neville, who managed the team. That’s where the rebellious part of me is, if you know what I mean. And then there are a few coaches, a mental coach, a physical coach and a driving coach.”

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Danny Moore is not a real person

Orlando Bloom as Danny Moore in the Gran Turismo film castSony photos

Orlando Bloom’s Danny Moore isn’t a real person, but he is directly inspired by GT Academy founder Darren Cox.

In the film we meet Bloom’s character as a marketing manager at Nissan who presents the GT Academy to the board. They give the green light and it’s ready to recruit racers within a week, but in reality Cox pitched it in 2006 and it took two years for the idea to be implemented.

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When we spoke to Cox, he noted: “The character in it is a lot more corporate than me, and a lot more corporate jet… the scenes where it seems like I’m a bit of a businesswoman – quote me on that – it just didn’t happen. I was the guy who risked my career to make this happen. So the bits in there that are a bit irritating are the bits where I wonder if Jann should win or the other one. That absolutely did not happen. That wouldn’t have been my way of doing things.

“These things have to be done because it’s Hollywood, but my real character is absolutely not about trying to save the moment,” he continued. Danny is an “approximation” of him, but “certainly not as rebellious and anti-establishment as I was and the program was at the time.”

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Jann Mardenborough was not the first winner of the GT Academy

The real Jann MardenboroughNissan

Gran Turismo positions Jann Mardenborough as the first racer to win the GT Academy… but that’s not true.

It was founded in 2008 and Lucas Ordóñez was its first graduate. The competition did not return until 2010, with Jordan Tresson emerging as the winner. Mardenborough entered and won in 2011.

Qualification for the GT Academy

Archie Madekwe in the Gran Turismo movieSony photos

In the film, Jann Mardenborough finds out that his track times make him eligible to take part in the first phase of qualifying for the GT Academy, but in real life things were a little different.

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Although minor changes occurred over the eight years, the process consisted of four phases. Firstly, anyone could qualify after downloading a free update and attempting to set the fastest possible lap time in four consecutive rounds in Gran Turismo 6 (or Gran Turismo 5 in previous years) on PS3. Nissan and PlayStation also hosted live events for the qualifying rounds, allowing people to compete in gaming cafes and motorsport conventions, with these winners earning a spot in the finals.

The competitors who made it to the national finals then took part in the Gran Turismo 6 time trials and underwent various tests of their real-world driving skills, personality, physical fitness and general health.

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Those winners were then selected for race camp, similar to what you see in the movie. There they were judged on and off the track and reduced to a smaller group that competed against each other in a final race to determine the winner.

Only the winner would progress to the fourth phase: Nissan’s Driver Development Program, where they would undergo 2 to 4 months of training and several race races to qualify for an international racing license.

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Jann Mardenborough finished third at Le Mans

The real Jann MardenboroughNissan

The film ends with Jann Mardenborough and his sim racing team finishing third at Le Mans – and this actually happened… well, mostly.

In 2013, Mardenborough competed at Le Mans alongside early GT Academy winner Lucas Ordóñez and Michael Krumm, a German professional racer. The latter driver has no connection with the GT Academy.

They didn’t race for Team Nissan either – they were part of Greaves Motorsport.

Jann Mardenborough crashes at the Nürburgring

The Gran Turismo includes the horror Mardenborough crash at the Nürburgring, in which a spectator was killed. This accident itself is accurate, but it occurred at a completely different time.

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In the film, Mardenborough takes part in a race at the infamous German circuit as he attempts to obtain his license. His car becomes airborne at the Flugplatz, which means airfield, because of the ease with which the front of cars can come off the track. He wakes up in the hospital, where he is told that the ‘freak accident’ resulted in the death of a spectator.

Understandably, this damages his self-confidence and leaves him wondering if he will ever be mentally and physically fit to race again. Jack Salter takes him back to the crash site and forces him to face his guilt, giving him the confidence to move past the incident and compete at Le Mans.

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In reality, this accident rocked the Nürburgring in 2015, two years after finishing third at Le Mans. Critics have condemned the film for this timeline rearrangement, accusing the filmmakers of exploiting tragedy to give the film’s story more weight.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, the real Mardenborough spoke about the inclusion of the crash in the film, believing it would have been a “disservice to the public” if the crash had not been shown.

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“I made sure that all of us were there in production – the producers, Jason the screenwriter – that it went that way. Because it had to be correct, because someone lost their life in this accident. And the film does that very well,” he said.

“It also shows the deep dark moments of my life when I was alone in the hospital. You know, the mental aspects of such an event, and also of life. What can happen, how can you get out of it, how can you bounce back and achieve something – achieve greatness – based on that. And so it had to be in there.”

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Cox addressed the controversy in our interview, saying: “Certainly, if you look at the original source video, it’s very close in action to what happened, and unfortunately I lived through it. Yes, there is artistic license in terms of the timing of things, and unfortunately, just like my character isn’t perfect for me and is a bit ad*ck… it’s one of those things.

Gran Turismo is now available to stream on Netflix, and you can also check out our other coverage below:

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