Lies The Gran Turismo Movie Told You About The True Story It Was Based On

What, exactly, "Gran Turismo" is about might be confusing to some prospective moviegoers. Yes, it's the latest video game adaptation, following on the heels of the enormously successful "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" and Playstation's own TV adaptation of "The Last of Us." But really, it's a pretty traditional sports biopic about the most successful gamer-to-racer to graduate from Nissan's GT Academy. Because "Gran Turismo" is a racing simulator without much of a narrative, Sony has chosen to bring the excitement of both the video game and the motorsport to the big screen by way of Jann Mardenborough's underdog tale. As is often the case with these types of movies, before the action starts, the audience is told that what they're about to see is based on a true story

Just how true is "Gran Turismo?" The basics are rooted in fact. Kazunori Yamauchi really did bring an incredibly lifelike racing game to market. Nissan really did stage a Playstation player to Professional driver competition. Jann Mardenborough really did win it and go on to have an impressive career. Still, in terms of its characters, plot points, and timeline, "Gran Turismo" veers from the real story in order to tell one that's more streamlined and dramatic. These are the lies — some more consequential than others — that the film tells its audience. 

Jann Mardenborough was GT Academy's first winner

No one in "Gran Turismo" explicitly claims that Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) is the first-ever international champion of GT Academy. However, since we witness a fictionalized version of the program's conception at a meeting in Japan, followed shortly thereafter by Jann's victory and eventual contract signing, it's about as heavily implied as it could be. The film uses graphics and text to communicate to viewers information such as what city Jann's in, what track he's racing, and what place he's in. It's less upfront about the timeline. That's likely because Jann was actually one of the winners of the third GT Academy, which took place in 2011.  

The inaugural search for a gamer who could make it as a racer took place in 2008, when 22 contestants from across Europe faced off against each other. Two men – Lucas Ordóñez of Spain and Lars Schlömer of Germany — were both declared winners, but only Ordoňez made it to the Dubai 24. Unfortunately for Schlömer, further training showed his digital skills didn't translate to the track. GT Academy was held again in 2010. This time, France's Jordan Tresson prevailed. A year later, the competition expanded to the United States and two more champions were crowned: Mardenborough in Europe and Bryan Heitkotter in America. He may not have been the first (in fact, Ordóñez was already placing at big races while Mardenborough was still playing in his bedroom), but of all GT Academy's alumni, he's had the longest and most productive tenure in motorsports. 

Danny Moore started GT Academy

In "Gran Turismo," a marketing executive named Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) travels to Tokyo to pitch an idea to Nissan's top brass. With retail sales in decline and interest in muscle cars at a low point, Moore suggests tapping into the fandom of the "Gran Turismo" video game series. His presentation gets a lukewarm response, but a representative from the group tells him the company will approve his plan, so long as he can ensure the participants' safety by hiring a supervising engineer. Moore's dream quickly becomes a reality, but when the socially awkward Jann wins by a millionth of a second over the charismatic American Matty Davis, the mastermind of the whole operation tries to game his own system. Moore is eventually depicted as being supportive of Jann, though he remains concerned about the brand first and foremost. 

In real life, a Nissan employee named Darren Cox dreamt up the idea for GT Academy. It took Cox, who was a general manager for Nissan Europe at the time, three years to get his pet project off the ground. That GT Academy actually worked did elevate Cox's status. He went on to become Nissan's global brand head and global motorsports director before founding his own esports company. While Moore is undeniably inspired by Cox, the name appears to have been changed so that filmmakers could take more liberties with the character.

Jann was chosen to compete because of his most recent high score

On screen, Jann learns about GT Academy at the same moment that he learns he's been chosen to compete in the first round. A friend sees his name on a monitor at a local gaming cafe, and when they press play on the accompanying video message starring Danny Moore, Jann discovers he was selected because his last race on that particular console clocked in as one of the fastest times in the world. He barely makes it to the qualifier, which sees him driving at the same Gamerland. 

The way the first act of "Gran Turismo" unfolds is dramatic, but it's not very accurate. In reality, Jann knew all about GT Academy, which had been around since 2008. Jann told ESPN that he booted up his Playstation one morning and there was a new menu that advertised GT Academy tryouts. He purposefully entered the competition in 2011 — when he was eligible, having turned 19 — using his customized home setup. The film does get some things right, though. Jann really did drop out of a motorsports engineering course shortly before he was selected for GT Academy, and he really did beat out 90,000 hopefuls. 

His dad wasn't supportive

One of the major sources of tension in "Gran Turismo" is the relationship between Jann and his father Steve (Djimon Hounsou). Steve is a former professional football player who seems to favor Jann's more athletic younger brother. He thinks esports are a waste of time and insists that their family doesn't belong in the world of competitive car racing. Jann spends much of the movie trying to earn his father's respect and prove him wrong. 

It is true that Steve Mardenborough played professional football for more than a decade, and it's true that he wanted his son to love the sport as much as he did. However, he was more on board with Jann's obsession than "Gran Turismo" lets on. The film goes out of its way to show that most race car drivers have wealth and connections. That's also true, to an extent. Before GT Academy, most drivers got their start in karts. 

Jann had been intensely interested in cars since infancy and was introduced to the "Gran Turismo" game by a family friend at age eight. Around the same time, Steve took him to train and compete in the kart circuit, where the local track owner assured the retired footballer that the boy had talent. Sadly, the kart track closed when Jann was 11, at which point the sport was proving to be too expensive for the family anyway. Steve didn't know about his son's GT Academy ambitions because Jann was shy and didn't tell him about the opportunity until after he'd qualified. 

Jack Salter was his mentor

If "Gran Turismo" feels familiar, it's probably in part because it features an archetypal character: the hard-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside mentor, Jack Salter (David Harbour). Like Doc Hudson in "Cars" before him, Salter is gruff, no-nonsense, and honest to a fault. He's initially reluctant to train the young guns until he sees that Jann in particular has what it takes on and off the track. Eventually, we discover that Salter left racing because of a horrific accident that he couldn't put behind him. Over the course of the film, he and Jann establish a close bond, with the former coaching the latter to a podium he never got to stand on himself. 

The relationship between the engineer and the driver is arguably the heart of the movie, but it's also the filmmaking team's biggest invention. Jack Salter wasn't a promising race car driver in his own right ... because he doesn't exist. Unlike Bloom's Danny Moore to Darren Cox, Harbour's Jack Salter isn't a one-for-one for any real-world driver or pit crew leader. While GT Academy graduates had mentor figures throughout their careers, someone named Salter wasn't one of them, and Jann didn't have a single engineer shepherding him through the ranks of his new profession. People like sports hypnotherapist Gavin Gough have been there for Jann through his ups and downs, but, as Harbour told Digital Spy, Salter is a composite character that provides "Gran Turismo" with a narrative arc. 

Jann went straight from Gameland to GT Academy

The fictionalized Jann's journey from GT Academy hopeful to winner is a short line between two points. He's identified as one of the best players in the world and competes in one digital race, and then he's whisked off to GT Academy. There, Moore and Salter put him and the other contestants through a battery of physical and mental tests to determine whether any of them might be capable of holding their own against professional racers. The Academy students are eliminated one by one until five remain. Jann, who's running in sixth place, is nearly kicked out when he crashed during a trial run with Salter in the passenger seat, which would've pleased Moore, who is concerned with his lack of press readiness. 

As biopics are wont to do, "Gran Turismo" condensed and dramatized this period of Jann's life to fit neatly into the first third of the movie. The actual GT Academy's processes changed from year to year, but in 2011 both in the United States and Europe, they involved an online time trial, a national virtual championship, and a regional in-person racing camp that lasted for about six weeks, with roughly five hours of training a day. The contestants were regularly on camera since the entire endeavor was broadcast as a reality show, with eliminations occurring until a final four (as opposed to five) drivers remained. The culminating race was held at Silverstone in the United Kingdom. Jann was the winner (again, the European winner) and received a year of continued development to transition him into his new career. 

He was one of 10 international contestants

The middle part of "Gran Turismo" takes place at GT Academy's racing camp, as Jann and nine other "Gran Turismo" experts are put through the paces. His competition includes Matty Davis from America, Marcel Durand from France, and other wannabe racers from across the globe. Jann starts out in the middle of the pack, and it's hinted that the frontrunner, camera-ready Matty, might have previous experience driving actual cars. 

The characters we meet in these scenes are not the people Jann really competed against in 2011. There were 12, not 10, finalists hailing from the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Iberia, and their names are wholly different from those that appear in the "Gran Turismo" cast list. The American camp hosted 16 additional finalists. However, Jann did tell the Motorculture podcast that his competitors did have more experience than him behind the wheel. Prior to GT Academy, he'd never actually driven on the highway. 

Jann faced bullying from Nick Cava and other professionals

Every story needs a villain. "Gran Turismo" has the entitled, obnoxious Nick Cava and his gold-clad team of yes-men. Salter (who we already know isn't a real person) starts out working for Cava as a mechanic. He quits and changes his mind about GT Academy and Moore's offer when Cava refuses to listen to his advice. Later, when he's in Jann's ear during his first professional race, he warns his young mentee that Cava drives dirty. Sure enough, Cava rear-ends him, causing Jann and Team Nissan to finish 27th. In another race, Cava's aggressive driving causes a crash which Jann narrowly avoids. Finally, after his accident at Nürburgring, Cava leads a group of professional drivers in a campaign against simulation drivers getting spots on the track. 

As you may have guessed, the almost too cartoonishly awful to be true Nick Cava is yet another completely fictional character. He's meant to represent the fact that car racing is an elitist sport, but Jann told The Motormouth Podcast that the vast majority of professional drivers were welcoming of GT Academy graduates and good sports, and there was no organized effort to stop sim racers from joining the sport. He could only recall one instance in which another competitor taunted him. "If you see me in your mirrors, don't fight me, let me go," the Cava-like top-rated driver said. For the record, Jann beat him.

He needed to get fourth in Dubai to get his license

After Jann wins GT Academy, the next obstacle he has to overcome is obtaining his racing license, which we're told he can only do if he places in the top four during his first season of driving. After his 27th-place performance, he gets 23rd in Germany, 17th in Italy, 8th in Istanbul, and doesn't finish in Barcelona, which sets up a race in Dubai as his last shot. Just as he'd beaten Matty Davis in a photo finish at the camp, he gets the fourth place he so desperately needs by the skin of his teeth in Dubai. He, Moore, and Salter celebrate breathlessly (but with beer, since champagne's for the podium). 

Jann did cap off his first year at Dubai, but the stakes were slightly different, as were the particulars of the race itself. In real life, he'd already gotten his license, won a race, and made the podium three times by the time he got to Dubai. Jann's concern was whether Nissan would continue to fund his racing career. The Dubai 24 was basically the prize for winning GT Academy. There were no guarantees he'd have a job after that. Jann competed in a team of four drivers for Nissan. The race, like Le Mans, lasts for 24 hours, with teammates taking shifts as the day goes on. Team Nissan — which was entirely made up of former GT Academy winners — placed third, and Jann learned at the afterparty that his contract would be extended. 

His infamous crash happened early in his career

Controversially, "Gran Turismo" includes a recreation of the crash that could've cost Jann his career and his life. In the film, just as his star is rising and his parents are beginning to take him seriously as a professional driver, Jann's car goes vertical on a hill at Nürburgring. The vehicle is lifted into the air, where it flips and spins until it comes crashing down on the other side of a chain link fence and into a crowd of spectators. Jann is rendered unconscious and taken to the hospital. When he comes to, he learns that one of the spectators was killed. His mother and father are thrilled that he was discharged without injury, but an emotionally wounded Jann refuses to see anyone. 

The crash itself happened almost exactly as is depicted in the film. There are countless clips available on the internet for anyone who wants to watch the real thing. Multiple spectators were injured and one did die, and Jann received only routine checkups. The controversy has to do with at what point the horrific accident occurs in this fictionalized retelling. The real Jann Mardenborough crashed at Nürburgring in 2015... four years after he won GT Academy and two-plus years after he placed third at the Dubai 24 and Le Mans. He was already an established driver at the time, but "Gran Turismo" moves the tragedy up and makes it into a plot point on Jann's path to greatness. Some find this decision offensive, but Jann told The Sunday Times Driving that it was part of his life and story and couldn't be left out of the movie. 

The tragedy made Jann want to quit

In "Gran Turismo," a recovering Jann is ready to hang up his keys as it were. He blames himself for the accident and even buys into the idea that sim drivers have no business racing real cars. Salter, who has a painful past of his own involving an accident and a death, refuses to let Jann make the same mistake he did. He comes clean about why he left the sport, then insists that a still banged-up Jann finish his lap. The strategy works, and Jann gets back behind the wheel. 

The real Jann needed no such motivation. Though he told ESPN that he feels "massive guilt" that will never go away about the fact that someone lost their life, he also confessed that he never once thought about quitting because of the incident. "This is what I'm born to do," he told the sports network. Less than a week after the violent crash, he was doing laps at his local track again. 

He made the podium at Le Mans

The climax of "Gran Turismo" takes place at Le Mans, a famed 24-hour endurance race in France in which teams of three drivers compete for a prestigious trophy. Jann's teammates are his former GT Academy rivals, Matty Davis and Antonio Cruz, but it's clear that he's the headliner. Up until this point, our protagonist hasn't made the podium, and champagne has been referenced over and over again, so the audience can pretty safely assume that Team Nissan is going to end up in third. That's exactly what happens. After Cruz's legs cramp up and a tire change goes awry, Jann comes from behind to once again come out on top in a photo finish. He and his fellow teammates celebrate, and the film closes with some side-by-side photos and title cards about Jann and his career. 

The real driver who we see in those photos did get third at Le Mans in 2013. One of his teammates was first-ever GT Academy winner Lucas Ordóñez. The other was a driver named Michael Krumm. The trio repped Nissan but drove a Zytec Z11SN for British racing team Greaves Motorsports, and more importantly, they actually finished fourth. Jann and company were notified that they'd been promoted to a podium-worthy finish when the third-place team — G-Drive Racing Oreca Nissan of Delta ADR — had been disqualified. But, by the time that news came, the awards ceremony had already taken place, which meant Jann never actually stood on the Le Mans podium as he does in "Gran Turismo."