Interview with Jann Mardenborough (GT Academy 2011 Winner)

Last weekend James and I were at Silverstone driving really fast cars fairly fast around Stowe, more on this later today, before watching the penulimate race in the British GT championship. Naturally we were supporting the Pro-Am partnership between Alex Buncombe and Jann Mardenborough (GT Academy 2011 Winner) racing for RJN Motorsports in the GT3 class.

Starting 8th on the grid, Alex made an amazing start up to 4th after a few corners and 2nd within a couple of laps. Everything was going fantastically well but it didn’t quite last and soon the stewards were handing out penalties for exceeding track limits all over the place. Mainly for going wide into the run-off at Copse corner.

Then heading into Jann’s final stint the GT-R developed issues with ABS and traction control both missing (and the car being rear wheel drive for the track version), meaning he had a very interesting last 40 minutes. Eventually bringing it home in 8th, it’s definitely a disappointing result with a car that started off so well. The most important part of this result is for the overall GT3 championship, and here the team are still striking distance of the title as their rivals also had plenty of issues.

It just so happened that Sunday was also Jann’s 21st birthday, so Nissan and RJN made a bit of a fuss. Including a cake version of the #35 GTR he drives in the championship… oh, and a new car.

I felt a little guilty for taking up a little of Jann’s time through all of this, but he was happy to grant me an interview for a few minutes about gaming, driving and everything in-between.


TSA: For you, what was the main thing that you had to adapt to when going from Gran Turismo 5 to real life?

Jann: The main difference going from the game to reality, which all of the gamers really struggled with initially, was the vision. For me personally I had a little 13” television, so my eyes are constantly fixated on the screen, they don’t even move!

In a race car, especially for [Brooklands into Luffield] where you’re heading down at 150MPH, you have to be looking to the left into the corner. Initially it’s difficult to do that, because you’re programmed to look dead ahead and you don’t want to look over there and it’s not where you’re going at that point. It does take a lot of practice, and that was the major difference really.

The other thing that comes with time is the sensation you get through your backside and lower spine from the car moving around beneath you. Obviously with a wheel and a game you just get all your sensations through your hands. It does help actually, it just takes a while for that to get programmed into your brain, and what’s happening at certain stages which lets you predict what’s going to happen.

Those are the main two areas really but vision is the most important one to get used to.

TSA: On the flip side, what could you take over to real driving from the game? Was there anything you could just take straight across?

J: Well yeah, with GT5 it’s a driving simulator so [features] things like car control, steering inputs and how to control a car mid-slide. I’d never power-slid a car before coming to GT Academy, and at the national final I had a 370z completely sideways which I’d never done before in real life. All I was doing was what I did in the game and it seemed to be working.

Heel and toe techniques, racing techniques which you can do in the game with wheel and pedals. Left foot braking, which you can practice in the game then do in real life. There’s a lot of things that you can do on the game, and I think to set a fast lap on GT5 there are certain things that you can do which then transfer across to a qualifying lap in real life. So that’s fantastic.

There’s a definite link there between hand-eye coordination that the game provides and it’s helped me out massively!

TSA: I’ve always liked the weight transfer in Gran Turismo 5, which I think was simulated really well. From the driving we were doing this morning, where you could feel the weight transferring to different corners of the car, and the grip you have when cornering. I thought that transferred really well from the game.

J: With the new Gran Turismo 5 Academy Edition, the one that’s coming out this month, the car that’s included on there is the one which Lucas and Kazunori raced at the Nurburgring. I was there, and Polyphony had a load of sensors in the race car and from all the data that they gathered in real life, they had the car in a special version of GT5 where an engineer could edit it on the fly.

I was driving the car in the game, and Lucas said that it was exactly the same as in real life. Just that. The amount of detail that they put into it is incredible. It’s my favourite driving game anywhere.

TSA: How long have you been playing Gran Turismo and other racing games?

J: I think the first racing I even played was the first Gran Turismo on PSone. I must have started doing that when I was eight, or something. Very early on, and ever since then.

I’m a massive racing fan and gaming fan anyway, I love to play racing and shooting games those are the two genres that I stick to. Racing’s the main for me, and I’ve had loads of racing games on different platforms, different styles but I’m more of a sim guy, so I like the most realistic ones. I don’t really go for anything arcadey, it’s basically that you want to race the cars in the game that you can’t drive in real life. That’s it.


TSA: Well, maybe one day for you…

J: Yeah! You want the most realistic experience, and what it’s going to feel like, so GT5 really ticks all my boxes of interests.

TSA: Do you still get time to sit down and play a few games? Or is that a bit too much like work now?

J: Yeah, I do! Say I’m at home and I’ve got two weeks off and I’m not doing anything, I’ll boot it up for a few hours a day and have a good go online. It’s a bit difficult actually, because some of the guys recognise my ID, and they’re all like, “I know who you are.” and the pressure’s on to win.

TSA: I saw at the Spa race, you were tweeting (@jannthaman) pictures from the motorhome playing with…

J: Yeah, this is the thing. At Spa we had a motorhome and a copy of GT5 and we were trying to look for a WiFi connection to get the Spa DLC downloaded, but there wasn’t anything there!

We just managed to find one which was a very weak signal, but then we need to do patches and download things which would have taken ages, so me and Alex just went on Nurburgring for a bit of fun. Spent a lot of free time doing that.

TSA: As you said, it’s a bit of escapism which lets you drive those dream cars, but what is your absolute favourite dream car? GT5 or otherwise?

J: My favourite car… well it’s a Nissan GTR! But outside of that, I’d say maybe a Porsche Carrera GT is probably my favourite car.

TSA: With GT Academy having been going on for several years now with several guys higher up the ladder but now new guys coming in, how do you feel about adapting to become a mentor to people?

J: Well there’s four new winners this year, and I’m soon going to have to be a mentor figure. Lucas and Jordan have certainly been mentors to me when I won, and Bryan and me are going to be the same to these new winners.

Hopefully they can get the same success that all the previous winners have had. They certainly deserve their places by winning, and obviously I wish them all the best.

Gallery – A few shots from last weekend’s racing, including a lovely photo of Jann, his parents and the very cool #35 GT-R cake!

TSA: For yourself, where are you heading with your career next year? Are you sticking with British GT? Obviously, once you polish off the current championship in two weeks time!

J: Yeah, we want to win that first!

I don’t know what the plan exactly is, what I’m going to be doing, but they’re working on next year’s contracts for me and I’ll be happy whatever I’m doing.

Personally, I’d love to do another season in GT3 class, because the car’s in its first year of racing at the moment and it’s not on the pace yet to be honest. It’s not a front leading car, and we’ve been talking about the upgrades for next year, which looks really promising, and I’ve helped develop this car currently. So it would be lovely to see it when it’s got a year under its belt, and hopefully we can come out of the door strongly.

TSA: I have a bunch more questions jotted down, but I don’t want to keep you too long on your birthday, so I’ll bring it to an end with: Did your mum and dad ever tell you off for playing games to much?

J: Of course! My parents were constantly [telling me off]!

When I was at school in Sixth Form or doing my GCSEs, I was always on my PlayStation gaming away, and say dinner’s ready and I’d want five more minutes just to finish this lap. Then they’d disconnect the router, I’d be angry and they couldn’t understand why I was angry with them!

But now they sort of let me be, and when I say “Five more minutes” they actually understand.

TSA: Well it helps that you’re now 21 too! Thanks for the interview, happy birthday and good luck for two weeks time!

Thanks once more to Jann for taking the time for this interview, especially on his birthday! I’m sure I can speak for our readership in wishing you a slightly belated happy birthday once more, and luck for the final British GT race at Donnington on the 23rd of September.


  1. I want that car and cake!

  2. Really nice chap. I’m sure if I’d kept asking him questions he’d have happily chatted away for half an hour!

    Good luck at Donnington next weekend.

    Don’t forget Alex, though. 8th to 2nd in a couple of laps was a fantastic start. He and Jann make a really great driving team.

  3. Awesome stuff. The most astounding thing about the GT Academy racers is the short time from armchair virtual racing to actual on the track success in comparison to the usual long slog from Go-Karts and through the ranks path. That’s always amazed me!
    Great interview, top fella ;)

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