Sorting fact from fiction in the Gran Turismo movie
The Gran Turismo movie 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 turned into a movie that features Orlando Bloom and David Harbour.
Saltburn star Archie Madekwe plays protagonist Jann Mardenborough, a gamer who wins a contest to drive real race-cars for Nissan. And the story is true, with Jann becoming a member of the GT Academy, and getting to live his dream.
You can read our review here, while below we sort fact from fiction in the movie. Spoilers to follow…
Gran Turismo true story explained
Below, we’ve picked apart and fact-checked moments and characters in the Gran Turismo movie. We’ll say this: some of it is pretty bang on, but there are notable made-up additions and timeline changes that have already been the subject of controversy.
Jack Salter isn’t a real person
David Harbour plays Jack Salter, a gruff failed racer who’s enlisted by Danny Moore to run the GT Academy. However, he’s not even a real person – he’s a fictional creation.
It seems he’s somewhat inspired by Gavin Gough, an NLP and sports hypnosis practitioner whom Mardenborough met at the academy. “The ripple effect of that conversation was significant. During day 5 of GTAcademy Gav flicked a switch within me sat down at Silverstone. My performance then skyrocketed,” the real Mardenborough tweeted.
Harbour isn’t bothered by the accuracy of the movie. “Our narrative has its own particular arc to it, its own particular style and its own particular undercurrents of what this guy is doing 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.
“Our lives don’t necessarily add up the way a character’s life does. Sometimes they’re tragic in their unpredictable nonsense as opposed to their beautiful poetic edge to them. I don’t find that real research as useful as my own personal work.”
In our interview with Darren Cox, he said Salter is a “combination of three or four people… there was a guy called Ricardo Davila who was a car designer… absolute legend, and he was an engineer. There’s a bit of the team manager, a guy called Bob Neville, who ran the team. There’s the rebellious bit of me, if you see what I mean in there. And then there’s a couple of coaches, mental coach and physical coach and driving coach.”
Danny Moore isn’t a real person
Orlando Bloom’s Danny Moore isn’t a real person – but he is directly inspired by Darren Cox, the founder of the GT Academy.
In the movie, we meet Bloom’s character as a Nissan marketing executive who pitches the GT Academy to the board. They give it the green light and it’s ready to recruit racers within what seems like a week, but in reality, Cox pitched it in 2006 and it took two years for the idea to be implemented.
When we spoke to Cox, he noted: “The character that’s in it is very much a lot more corporate than I was, and a lot more corporate jet… the scenes where it looks like I am a bit of a corporate d*ck – quote me on that – it just didn’t happen. I was the guy that was putting my career on the line to make this happen. So the bits in it that grate a little bit are the parts where I question whether Jann should win or the other guy. That absolutely didn’t 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 absolutely isn’t about just 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 back in the day.”
Jann Mardenborough wasn’t the first winner of the GT Academy
Gran Turismo positions Jann Mardenborough as the first racer to win the GT Academy… but this isn’t true.
It was founded in 2008, and Lucas Ordóñez was the first graduate. The competition didn’t return until 2010, in which Jordan Tresson emerged as the winner. Mardenborough entered and won in 2011.
Qualifying for the GT Academy
In the movie, Jann Mardenborough finds out he’s eligible to enter the initial qualifying stage for the GT Academy due to his track times – but it was a bit different in real life.
While there were slight changes across its eight-year run, the process was made up of four phases. Firstly, anyone could qualify after downloading a free update and trying to set the fastest lap time possible in four consecutive rounds in Gran Turismo 6 (or Gran Turismo 5 in its earlier years) on PS3. Nissan and PlayStation also hosted live events for the qualifying rounds so people could compete at gaming cafes and motorsport conventions, and these winners earned a spot in the finals.
Next, competitors who made it to the national finals competed in Gran Turismo 6 time trials, as well as undergoing several tests of their actual driving ability, personality, physical fitness, and general health.
Those winners were then selected for the race camp, similar to what you see in the movie. There, they were assessed on and off the track and whittled down to a smaller group that went head-to-head in a final race to determine the winner.
Only the winner would progress to the fourth phase: Nissan’s Driver Development Programme, where they’d take on 2-4 months of training and several order races in order to qualify for an international racing license.
Jann Mardenborough did come third at Le Mans
The movie closes with Jann Mardenborough and his sim-racing team placing third at Le Mans – and this actually happened… well, mostly.
In 2013, Mardenborough competed in Le Mans alongside early GT Academy winner Lucas Ordóñez and Michael Krumm, a German professional racer. The latter driver doesn’t have any connection to the GT Academy.
They also weren’t racing for Team Nissan – they were part of Greaves Motorsport.
Jann Mardenborough’s Nürburgring crash
The Gran Turismo includes Mardenborough’s horror crash at the Nürburgring, in which a spectator was killed. This accident itself is accurate – but it took place at a completely different time.
In the film, Mardenborough takes place in a race at the notorious German track as he’s trying to get his license. His car becomes airborne on the Flugplatz, meaning airfield – due to how easily cars’ front-ends can lift off the track. He wakes up in hospital, where he’s told the “freak accident” led to the death of a spectator.
Understandably, it rocks his confidence and makes him wonder whether he’ll ever be mentally and physically capable of racing again. Jack Salter takes him back to the scene of the crash and forces him to confront his guilt, giving him the confidence to move past the incident and compete at Le Mans.
In real life, this accident rocked the Nürburgring in 2015 – two years after he came third at Le Mans. Critics have slammed the movie for this rearrangement of the timeline, accusing the filmmakers of exploiting a tragedy to give the movie’s story more weight.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, the real-life Mardenborough spoke about the crash’s inclusion in the film, believing it would have been a “disservice to the audience” if it wasn’t shown.
“I made sure all of us that were with the production — the producers, Jason the scriptwriter — that that was how it went down. Because it needed to be correct, because somebody lost their life in this accident. And the movie does a great job of that,” he said.
“It shows as well the deep dark moments of my life when I was in the hospital by myself. You know, the mental aspects to such an event, and in life as well. What can happen, how you can get out of that, how can you rebound and achieve something — achieve greatness — off the back of that. And so it had to be in there.”
Cox addressed the controversy in our interview, saying: “Certainly, if you look at the original source video, it’s very close in terms of the action to what happened, and unfortunately I lived through it. Yes, there’s artistic license on the timing side of things, and unfortunately, just like my character not being perfect for me and being a bit of a d*ck… it’s one of those things.”
Gran Turismo is available to stream on Netflix now, and you can also check out our other coverage below: