With the increasing number of collaborations between video games and movies in recent times, PlayStation Productions’ latest film, Gran Turismo, stands out in a different way, simply because of the story it tells. Unlike other video game adaptations that usually bring the original works to screen, this new sports drama film actually tells the remarkable story of a young man who makes the jump from sim racing to real on-track competition. What is even more remarkable, of course, to audiences not in touch with sports racing, is that this story is based on the very real Jann Mardenborough, a professional racer who got his chance in the sport because of the video game. While Gran Turismo perhaps does not have the most realistic storytelling and is more dramatized than I’m comfortable with, there is surely a different, more simplistic charm to catch in this racing thriller.
Plot Summary: What is the film about?
Gran Turismo begins with a short glimpse and introduction to the original video game featured heavily—Sony’s PlayStation-exclusive racing simulator, Gran Turismo. Made by game developer and professional racer Kazunori Yamauchi, GT is considered by many to be one of the most realistic and leading racing simulation experiences. It is with one such avid racer that the film Gran Turismo begins, as a young man in Wales named Jann Mardenborough is seen enthralled by the GT games. Having recently purchased a new sim racing wheel, Jann gets back into the latest GT game and casually defeats opponents with his in-depth knowledge of customizing cars. But to most around, particularly his father Steve, Jann’s excessive interest in a video game is rather alarming and an utter waste of time. Steve had been a professional footballer for Cardiff City for most of his career, and he wants his sons to pursue the same sport. While Jann’s younger brother is actually interested and plays football at Cardiff’s junior levels, the protagonist is interested only in racing, even though he can only do so in a video game.
On the other side of the world, in Tokyo, a very new prospective plan is in the works by a Nissan marketing executive named Danny Moore. Hailing from the UK, Danny’s intention is to convince the Nissan bosses to tap into a completely unexplored region of marketing—video games. His presentation touches upon the realism of the Gran Turismo games and then demands that Nissan do something with the games to target gamers and, in turn, the younger generations. Danny’s exact plan is soon revealed—he wants Nissan to host a collaborative sim racing competition with Gran Turismo, the winner of which will be given the opportunity to drive the real Team Nissan cars in motorsport competitions. Despite the great risk involved, Nissan does allow the plan to be executed, with the demand that a certified chief engineer be hired to train the drivers.
Looking for such an engineer, Danny Moore reaches the UK, where he approaches Jack Salter, a retired racer who currently works as a mechanic for the rival Capa racing team. Salter initially laughs off the prospect, claiming that video game drivers can never be professional racers, but he soon changes his mind. Pushed by the arrogance of his team’s superstar driver, Nicholas Capa, Salter decides to quit his team and instead join the ambitious project at Nissan.
How does Jann go through success and failure with GT and Nissan?
Jann Mardenborough is soon informed by a friend of his about the Nissan-sponsored Gran Turismo competition that he has been selected for, owing to him holding the fastest lap record among all gamers in Wales. Much to his surprise and excitement, Jann is invited to compete in an online race, and he goes against his father’s wishes to participate in the competition. The young man wins the race and is selected as one of the students at the newly formed GT Academy. Flying over to England, Jann meets with the rest of the team, and the other students, and a rigorous training phase begins. The team engineer, Jack Salter, is still extremely wary of letting gamers drive sports cars on the track, but his rigidity also softens up with Jann’s excellence on the track. After a series of elimination rounds, five final drivers are chosen to compete in a race on the track, and Jann finds his place among them.
Helped by the varied customization and car-building features of the Gran Turismo games, Jann is shown to be brilliantly skilled at understanding his car and knowing how much he can push for more performance. He had also developed a particular habit of experimenting with the racing line by playing the games, much to the surprise of his father and later his engineer. Instead of following the racing line, which is the conventionally fastest way around any track, Jann liked to often take wider turns and overtake his opponents on the outside. Using all of these skills, he wins the Gran Turismo Academy competition and is selected as the driver who will get the opportunity to race with the real Nissan team. Danny Moore’s executive instincts kick in for a moment, as he wants to hand the win to another driver, Matty Davis, who is more spontaneous and less awkward with the media than Jann. However, Jack Salter immediately turns down his request and respects the true winner on the track.
Given the opportunity to step into the world of motorsports, Jann is informed that he still needs to earn his FIA racing license in order to get a professional contract with Nissan. To get this license, the protagonist needs to finish in the top four at the upcoming European series races, but this proves more difficult than it seems. Naturally less prepared than the other competitors, who have been racing cars ever since their teenage years, Jann has to face failures in the first few races. Eventually, though, he finishes fourth in a race in Dubai, achieving the feat with his windshield shattered. Nissan finally approves of the entire situation, and Jann Mardenborough is given his professional contract, making him a driver on the Nismo team.
But more chaos and heartbreak follow for the man during the very next race at the difficult Nurburgring in Germany. After a solid start, Jann holds the second position and quickly moves close to the leader, but then his car gets caught in a gust of wind at a notorious part of the track. The Nismo car is swept up and has a terrible crash, flying straight towards the siderails. Although Jann survives the accident with some injuries, a spectator is announced to have died because of it. This death affects the protagonist very harshly, and he even considers stepping away from motorsports, too, losing confidence in himself. But it is Jack Salter who opens up about his own failure during this time and, in the process, encourages Jann to return to racing. Some years ago, Jack too used to be a racer and had taken part in the prestigious but immensely difficult Le Mans race. He, too, had a horrible crash during the race, in which one of his competitors died while being taken to the hospital. Jack blamed himself for the accident at the time and stopped racing altogether. However, the man now admits that he regrets making that decision to this day and so encourages Jann not to do the same.
As Jann gets his mind back to the sport, the officials clear him as fit to race. However, the man and the Nismo team face difficulties from a different side, as the rivals Capa and other teams now protested against letting video game sim drivers drive real cars in motorsport competitions. Nissan, too, was growing wary of funding Danny Moore’s team, and in order to prove themselves to both their funders and their rivals, Jann and the Nismo team had to face a final hurdle. Not only do they have to participate in the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans race, but they also have to finish in the top three standings of the race.
Did Jann and Team Nismo succeed at Le Mans?
Because the Le Mans race is a 24-hour-long competition, two other drivers are also needed to be added to the team, and Jann’s rival from GT Academy, Matty Davis, joins Nismo. As Jann prepares for the biggest race of his life, his father, Steve, comes to meet him in the paddock. Despite their efforts to reach him, Jann had been avoiding his parents for all this time, thinking that his father would tell him off for all that he was doing. But Steve’s only concern was his son’s safety and to ensure that his son would not be heartbroken because they did not have enough money for the boy to pursue professional racing directly. Now that all of it is sorted out by the GT program, Steve apologizes to Jann for having been so tough on him, and the two do away with their differences.
During the race, Jann witnesses one of the cars have a horrific accident, and although the driver survives the crash, the protagonist is extremely affected by it. Dropping down the grid order because of his mental block and fear, Jann has to be reminded of some of the songs that he generally listens to for inspiration, in a rather over-dramatic scene. This works wonders, though, and the man is able to give his team a good position. Towards the end of the race, when Jann once again takes over at the wheel, Team Nismo is in ninth position due to a slow stop. Jann now starts to experiment with the racing line just like he used to in the Gran Turismo games, and the man finally ends the race in third place. Team Nismo secures a historic podium position, and Jann Mardenborough proves to the world that sim racers can turn into professional drivers as well.
How true are the events shown in the film?
Gran Turismo‘s ending shows photographs of the real characters on whom the work is based. Jann Mardenborough is indeed a real racer who got a chance to race for Team Nismo because of a Gran Turismo competition, just as shown in the film. His father, Steve, was also a professional footballer who played for Cardiff City during his career. But the other characters, like racing engineer Jack Salter, Nissan executive Danny Moore, and also rival racer Nicholas Capa, are all fictional creations. Jack Salter and Danny Moore must be based on real engineers and executives who helped Jann through his career and who started the Gran Turismo-Nissan collaboration, respectively. Nicholas Capa seems to be modeled on motorsport and Formula 1 racers who are backed by their fathers’ money and influence, with perhaps no one particular person as the base.
Along with the fictional characters, Gran Turismo also plays around with the arrangement of the events shown in the film in order to build more drama. The events highlighted, such as the terrible crash at Nurburgring and the euphoric podium finish at Le Mans, did take place in reality. However, the chronology has been changed since the accident actually took place about two years after the Le Mans win. The accident occurred in 2015, and a spectator was actually killed because of it, but it did not really provide a spur for Jann to secure the Le Mans podium, as this originally happened in 2013. Gran Turismo understandably changes this sequence, as the accident is made to be a moment of crisis for Jann, following which the triumph at Le Mans is more celebrated. The real photographs and comparisons at the end of “Gran Turismo” do slightly make up for these changes, though, as it is heartwarming to see the real Jann Mardenborough, who has acted as the stunt double of his character in the film, and the man still continues to be a racing driver.