WHEN Jann Mardenborough picked up his PlayStation controller for the first time, he never dreamed it would end like this.
He was just eight years old and had been introduced to the classic racing game Gran Turismo at a friend’s house.
Dad Steve was a pro-footballer and although immensely proud of his old man, kicking a ball about for a living wasn’t for him.
“My dad always said to me from a very young age to do something in life which you’re passionate about,” Mardenborough told SunSport.
“When you are eight years-old you don’t really understand what that means but those words were very powerful.”
His dream was to become a racing driver – and his skills were honed in his bedroom.
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Little did he know that, fast forward 24 years, and blockbuster film Gran Turismo, starring the likes of A-lister Orlando Bloom, would let the world know about the one of craziest sporting journeys of all-time.
The racing game Gran Turismo became everything for the youngster – super-competitive race offs with his pals were a daily occurance – and by the time the technology improved and online racing came into the equation, Mardenborough was on fire.
He had built his own racing set up in his bedroom – steering wheel, pedal and a homemade racing frame – after getting money from his parents for some good grades.
So when GT Academy was created, a chance to realise his dreams came zooming into view.
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Winners of the online tournament were given an unreal chance of joining the real-life Nissan racing team.
With hours of PlayStation experience in the bag, Mardenborough, then 19 and living in Cardiff after dropping out of university and working part-time in a clothes store, entered the competition and raced to victory.
Next up? A spot in the Dubai 24-hour race.
“I thought I was good, but not the best,” he admitted. “That was the first time-trial I had ever entered.”
A place on the Nissan team was in the bag but despite all those hours in front of the box, Mardenborough had never stepped foot on a racetrack.
Did playing on the PlayStation help in any way?
“The cars act in the same way so subconsciously just logging things and going ‘Okay, that's the same, that's the same.’
“I didn't think about it too deeply, so it felt normal to me.”
What happened next was anything but normal, however.
Mardenborough effortlessly moved through the gears, impressing on the track and travelling the world racing.
He has enjoyed a remarkable rise from bedroom racer to pro speedster to helping with the Hollywood production of his own story.
He did many of the stunts himself and played a key role in helping ensure the film was as realistic as possible.
It’s a remarkable tale – although one of its darkest moments was tough to process.
In 2015 during a race in Germany, Mardenborough was involved in a smash which killed a spectator.
The Brit escaped with minor injuries but reliving the nightmare was tough.
“Anyone who has done something successful has periods of darkness,” he admitted. “It was challenging to go back and open all that back up.”
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The film – which has former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell playing his mum – has been well-received and now the project is over, Mardenborough, who spent four years racing in Japan between 2016 and 2020, is keen to keep on racing in the United States.
“This chapter is complete,” he said. “Now it’s on to the future.”
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