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How the controversial ‘Gran Turismo’ crash scene played out in real life

The fatal crash really happened, but not quite how the movie depicts.

With any movie that’s based on a true story, it’s par for the course that filmmakers take some liberties when bringing that story to life on the big screen. Whether it’s plot changes, character additions or more, the film version rarely depicts the exact story. But when does artistic license go too far? 

That’s the question surrounding the movie “Gran Turismo," which came out Aug. 25 and stars Orlando Bloom, David Harbour and Archie Madekwe in the lead role.

What is the true story of 'Gran Turismo'? 

Named after a series of racing simulators put out by Polyphony Digital, "Gran Turismo" follows one young man's journey from gamer to actual racer, which is also detailed on his website.

Jann Mardenborough was a British teenager in the midst of his gap year from school, when he enrolled in, and eventually won, Nissan’s development program competition, called GT Academy.

The program was intended to find the best “Gran Turismo” players in the world — and give them a chance to get behind the driver’s seat for real. Mardenborough won the academy competition, and went on to drive for Nissan in Dubai, finishing third.

What happens in the crash scene? 

In 2015, Mardenborough competed in the VLN Endurance Championship in Germany. During the race, his car flipped through the fence that goes between the track and the spectators, the BBC reported at the time. The accident led to multiple injuries and one death.

Mardenborough reflected on how he coped after the crash in an interview with The Telegraph in 2015: “It's tough to talk about it. You’ve got to do your job and move on from it."

The crash was included at the movie at Mardenborough’s urging. A co-producer and stunt double in the movie, Mardenborough had a role in how his true story came to the screen — which is why he felt the crash needed to be show.

“It’s my life; it’s part of my story,” said Mardenborough in an interview with Driving. “So I feel it would have been a disservice for the audience for that not to be in there.”

He said that he felt strongly about the need to portray the accident. “It needed to be correct, because somebody lost their life in this accident. And the movie does a great job of that.”

But the scene — or rather, the placement of it — is raising some eyebrows.

While the crash was very real, the timeline of events was changed for the film.

Whereas the actual incident took place in 2015, the timing is altered to 2013 for the movie, while Mardenborough is preparing for his debut at the 2013 Le Mans race. The prestigious race spans 24 hours; the top prize goes to the car that drives the longest distance.

In the movie, the crash becomes a turning point for Mardenborough. To overcome the fallout from the crash, he seeks guidance from a mentor and then triumphantly places third.

In real life, Mardenborough had already placed third in that race and was preparing for the 2015 Le Mans when the accident occurred. In real life, the guidance from the mentor came in the form of Allan McNish, a Scottish racer who had also been involved in a fatal accident, per The Telegraph. Mardenborough did not place at the 2015 Le Mans.

This timeline change, as well as the depiction of the crash, has caused some reviewers to critique the film, writing, as one Slate article said in their headline, that it “mines a real death for inspirational drama.” 

“'Gran Turismo' is so fixated on its hero’s journey that it neglects everyone else, including the person whose death he caused,” writes author Sam Adams. We never learn the victim’s name, which was Andy Gehrmann, or those of the several other people injured that day, or anything about how Mardenborough or the racetrack officials handled the aftermath of the accident.”

“Suggesting the incident helped propel Jann to greatness is not only false, it’s reprehensible,” wrote Charlotte O’Sullivan for the London Evening Standard.

Polygon's Oli Welsh called it "arguably a tasteless reframing."

Mardenborough offered another perspective.

“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," he told Driver. has reached out to Mardenborough and "Gran Turismo" producers for comment.