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Interview

Mardenborough: Hypercar or LMDh seat for 2024 “the dream”

As the Hollywood adaptation of his motorsport career hits cinemas, former Gran Turismo sim racer Jann Mardenborough still has his sights set on a full-time motorsport drive.

Gran Turismo Movie star Mardenborough - Hypercar seat for 2024 the dream 02

Mardenborough was thrust into the motorsport limelight by winning the Gran Turismo Academy competition in 2011. The aim was to take the world’s quickest sim racers, put them through a series of challenges and select one to become a factory Nissan driver.

The now 31-year-old competition victor then drove for the Japanese manufacturer for nearly a decade, ending in 2020. To date, a motorsport career spanning the likes of Japanese Formula 3, Super Formula, SUPER GT and the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Since his final full-season drive for the Kondo Racing GT500 squad in 2020, there was a period of Formula E development work. However, the partnership with Nissan ended in the middle of last year.

Following a return to racing at the Fuji 24 Hours in May, he hopes that the Gran Turismo movie – which tells the early part of his motorsport career – can be used as a springboard to reignite his driving career.

“SUPER GT is my favourite championship, the cars are amazing and I loved living out there,” said Mardenborough at the Gran Turismo World Series Showdown esports event in Amsterdam, held a day after the Dutch film premiere.

“However, when you’re in a specific region for five years, you aren’t that visible in Europe or even the rest of the world.

“Coming back, you have to be loud again. So the movie helps with my name being bright.

“It doesn’t mean on its own I’m going to get a seat because [of it], you still have to prove yourself.”

Gran Turismo Series Producer Kazunori Yamauchi and Jann Mardenborough at the Dutch Gran Turismo Movie premiere

Gran Turismo Series Producer Kazunori Yamauchi and Jann Mardenborough at the Dutch Gran Turismo Movie premiere

Photo by: Gran Turismo World Series

As for which potential options are available, the one-time GP3 race winner is aiming for a seat in the current Le Mans Hypercar or LMDh category but is open to other opportunities too.

“The target for next year will be Hypercar/LMDh, that’s the dream, and doing some GT3 racing in IMSA would be cool,” enthused Mardenborough.

“Between working on the movie, and also the promo, it’s just been in the paddock, talking to teams and almost rebranding myself. Being associated with Nissan for so long, people assume it’s still the same thing, but that’s not the case.”

Movie stunt driving presented unique challenges

During the past year, Mardenborough has had plenty of seat time, working as a stunt driver for the biopic and even acting as the driving double for himself in the Ligier JS PX prototype. The production extensively used the Hungaroring, Red Bull Ring and Slovakia Ring locations, the latter of which provided the most challenging conditions.

Jann Mardenborough was a stunt driver for the Gran Turismo Movie

Jann Mardenborough was a stunt driver for the Gran Turismo Movie

Photo by: Sony Pictures

“During the night-time shots… we were driving the Slovakia Ring in the opposite direction and we had these huge water towers, and LMP cars don’t really go well through lots of water, they turn into a boat,” Mardenborough recalled.

“The white lines were freshly painted on the circuit, but they weren’t quite dry. So when the water landed on the track, it was mixing with the paint, and then hitting the windscreen.

Jann Mardenborough on the set of Gran Turismo

Jann Mardenborough on the set of Gran Turismo

Photo by: Sony Pictures

“Not only that, they needed to tape up the headlights because of the glare. So we couldn’t see where we were going in the dark, the windscreen was getting covered in paint and we’re driving a circuit in reverse that nobody really knows very well.”

He added: “That was the hardest of the shoots because sometimes we had no control over the car. But, it was probably the most fun as well and nobody crashed.”

Current Gran Turismo drivers could be competitive

The final GT Academy competition took place in 2016, and since then the main Gran Turismo-based competition is the World Series. An esports event without a motorsport career carrot, anyone with Gran Turismo 7 and a PlayStation can participate, with online stages reducing the field down to the world’s best sim racers competing as teams to crown the Manufacturers and Nations Cup champions.

Porsche won the 2023 Gran Turismo World Series Manufacturers Cup Showdown

Porsche won the 2023 Gran Turismo World Series Manufacturers Cup Showdown

Photo by: Gran Turismo World Series

It also doesn’t feature lavish prize pools but instead pays appearance fees to all finals competitors (alongside travel to exotic locations) with the aim of being a more sustainable platform than other contemporary series. Several drivers, such as Igor Fraga, who competed in the inaugural 2018 running, still take part five years later.

At the recent Showdown event, Spain took the Nations Cup honours thanks to Coque López, Pol Urra and Jose Serrano, while Serrano also went on to win the Manufacturers Cup for Porsche when paired with Takuma Sasaki. The overall title-deciding in-person show for both competitions happens in Barcelona this December.

Spain won the 2023 Gran Turismo World Series Showdown Nations Cup

Spain won the 2023 Gran Turismo World Series Showdown Nations Cup

Photo by: Gran Turismo World Series

When asked if the current crop of competitors could be good enough to race at the Le Mans 24 Hours, Mardenborough replied: “Absolutely, because there’s no reason why not.

“But the question is, do they want to? I’ve asked some of them that question myself about making the transition [to motorsport] and some of them say no.

“If you’re happy with what you’re doing and you’re the big fish in that situation then fair enough.

“For me though, it’s always the real thing [that’s] the best.”

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