Jann Mardenborough: From gamer to racer to movie inspiration

SEBRING, FL - MARCH 15: The #6 Nissan ORECA of Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Jann Mardenborough is shown in action during the 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway on March 15, 2014 in Sebring, Florida. (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
SEBRING, FL - MARCH 15: The #6 Nissan ORECA of Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Jann Mardenborough is shown in action during the 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway on March 15, 2014 in Sebring, Florida. (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images) /

There are very few people in the world who can say that they’ve turned their virtual racing skills into a real-life career, had a movie made about their journey, and even had a hand in creating that movie. Jann Mardenborough is one of those rare individuals, as well as a personal inspiration for me as a writer whose career also gained momentum through the gaming industry.

Jann Mardenborough is a British professional racer whose incredible career trajectory has made him a notable figure in both the gaming and motorsports communities. Stepping into the spotlight for winning the Nissan GT Academy competition in 2011, a program designed to make real-world racers out of Gran Turismo gamers, Mardenborough transitioned from the virtual world to the professional racing community. Since then, he has competed in a variety of motorsports events, including Formula 3, Le Mans, and Super GT, among others. His story became so compelling that it inspired a biographical film, Gran Turismo, in which he also had a role as a co-producer and stunt driver.

If you haven’t watched Gran Turismo yet, I urge you to do so. The movie puts you in the driver’s seat of his story, in which he went from the best Gran Turismo player to a real-life racer thanks to his ridiculously impressive skills behind the wheel – in a real car and in the Gran Turismo game itself.

I recently had the absolute pleasure of chatting with Mardenborough to discuss his awe-inspiring journey, the recent movie about his life, and what the future holds for his career in racing.

Jann Mardenborough on the surreal experience of Gran Turismo

Mardenborough expressed genuine surprise at how quickly a movie about his life came to fruition. “It does feel surreal,” he laughed, emphasizing that people who usually have biographical movies made about them are either much older or have passed away. For him, who is only 32, having a movie that narrates a chapter of his life is both “weird” and “fantastic.”

While most people would be content with a movie about their lives simply existing, Mardenborough took it a step further. Not only did he serve as a consultant, but he was also a stunt driver and co-producer for the movie. When I asked him how he felt about wearing so many hats for this entertaining story about his life, he admitted that the stunt-driving part was particularly close to his heart, allowing him to put his stamp on how the racing scenes would look. He shared that “the responsibility is on me because I’m the main car,” a role he didn’t take lightly – much like his real races.

Mardenborough’s journey began with playing Gran Turismo, which makes the movie’s nod to the game a vital piece of storytelling. There are many instances in the movie where, while figuring out an overpass or how fast and when to turn, you literally get to see inside a gamer’s POV. The lines appear, the internal dialogue and calculations are shown, the decisiveness and swift action that we as gamers are used to applying to games – all of those were adapted into the movie perfectly. As a gamer myself, those were some of the moments that stuck with me the most – I felt seen and understood in how I apply my “critical gaming thinking” into real-life shenanigans.

While he didn’t directly contribute to the film’s decision to use gaming-like visuals to portray his thought processes during races, he did appreciate it. According to Mardenborough, director Neill Blomkamp was the one to make the decision to include this amazing POV.

"He’s a gamer himself. He’s a car guy as well, and he wanted to make that connection of, like, what do we think about when we’re actually racing and make it applicable to Grand Turismo as well."

When I asked him what was the most challenging scene to film, Mardenborough candidly talked about his challenges, especially the scenes shot in the night and rain at Le Mans. “It was quite difficult to drive in the dark, in the rain, without much visibility from the headlights. Trying to do scripted overtakes like that was quite difficult. But they’re my favorite shots in the whole movie because it looks absolutely stunning in the night and in the rain.”

Visibility was limited due to the camera’s limitations with dynamic range, forcing the crew to dim the headlights. Despite the obstacles, he’s absolutely correct – that entire sequence is just gorgeous cinematography.

As for what the future holds, Mardenborough is eyeing a full-time racing season in 2024, with aspirations for Le Mans in the Hypercar LMP1 class and races in America.

But that doesn’t mean he’s abandoned his gaming roots. I did ask him if he still plays Gran Turismo, and it made me smile when he admitted to hopping on the game literally just three days prior. “I was playing it the other day with the VR headset. And, uh, yeah, it’s, uh, it’s pretty cool to play GT with a VR. It’s pretty crazy.”

Jann Mardenborough. Photo credit: Paolo Depalmas
Jann Mardenborough. Photo credit: Paolo Depalmas /

Finally, I asked Mardenborough if he had any “words of wisdom” to anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation or even path – regardless if it has to with directly with Gran Turismo or racing – for anyone also looking to take the leap from playing a game to doing something in real-life with the game. His lengthy yet heart-felt answer will be words that I will take with me, personally, for the rest of my life.

"Well, I would say that the gaming industry in general has never been bigger. It’s never been more lucrative. It’s never been a better time to make a career in any industry involving gaming, whether that be actual game developing or the actual companies themselves. Or if you are a streamer using like YouTube streaming or Twitch or a particular platform, it’s never been a better moment in time to get involved in that. You know? And if that’s something in which you are interested in, you’ve got to really pick your path because of the fact that it’s the biggest it’s ever been. It’s also the most competitive it’s ever been. And it will only continue to do that. So you have to be quite clear, very clear on what route you want to go down. If this is your thing, if this is what you want to do, you’ve got to really commit yourself to it.It’s the same with anything in life, really. You know, personally for me, it was racing. My route wasn’t really defined. I didn’t know how I would get from A to B, but once the opportunity presented itself, I was all in and I was aware of that, I was aware of the opportunity because I never let that dream go out. And that’s the same message I would say to anybody. You always have to keep those dreams alive inside you because I believe in faith and also the universe, and the universe rewards people who put in the work and really believe in what they want to do.If you don’t let that light go out, you will be presented with an opportunity one day. And how you respond to the opportunity is what dictates what happens in the future. And so, with gaming, you know, the light is on over the industry right now, so it’s never been a better time to get involved if that’s your your thing."

Again – he is truly an inspiration.

Jann Mardenborough’s story is an intriguing blend of gaming, real-world racing, and filmmaking. As a gamer myself, it was exhilarating to see someone who’s taken their love and talent for gaming to such heights.

Mardenborough has made huge and impactful strides in multiple areas, and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down anytime soon – thankfully. With such a unique journey, he remains an inspiration for gamers and aspiring racers alike.

Whether on the track, in front of the camera, or behind the scenes, he continues to break new ground, making it exciting to see where the road will take him next, and I am all here for that.

Next. Gran Turismo movie soundtrack. dark