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Neil Blomkamp’s ‘Gran Turismo’ Is an Action-Packed Ode to the Underdogs of Race and Drifting Culture

The culture loves a comeback story.

If you’re a fan of video games, chances are that Sony’s Gran Turismo series has made its way onto your console at some point. First launching in 1997, the racing simulator has since spawned eight primary games and eight secondary releases, even making its way to the real world with the debut of the GT Academy, launched in 2008. Eight years and speeding, the concept was simple: give GT players an opportunity to earn a real-life motor sports career.

The new Gran Turismo film, directed by Academy Award nominee Neil Blomkamp (District 9) and starring Archie Madekwe, David Harbour, and Orlando Bloom, amongst others, follows the true story of Jann Mardenborough, who undergoes a life-changing journey from working in construction with his father, to ultimately manifesting a professional motor sports career after mastering the GT video game. Gran Turismo is an unmissable tale of following one’s dreams, achieving the impossible and becoming a household name after years of feeling like an underdog.

Arguably one of the year’s most exciting and exhilarating releases from Sony this year, the Gran Turismo experience can be yours with early access to rent or buy the film now. With the blockbuster release generating excitement, Rolling Stone AU/NZ revisits some of the greatest underdog stories in motor sports history below.

Jann Mardenborough – 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans

Given that Mardenborough is the hero in Neil Blomkamp’s Gran Turismo, it’s hard to look past his very-first podium finish. Having attempted to study motorsport engineering at university, it was in 2011 that he entered the GT Academy competition in Gran Turismo 5. Even though he’d never driven a high performance car before or even been on a racetrack, he managed to triumph over 90,000 other applicants.

In June 2013, Mardenborough entered the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race as his ninth major event. Though not expected to place highly, his racing as part of the Greaves Motorsport resulted in third-place podium finish in the LMP2 class. Just over six months later, Mardenborough would receive his first second-placement at the 2014 Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand.

Olivier Panis – 1996 Monaco Grand Prix

The 1996 Monaco Grand Prix, the famous race is known for having the fewest cars remaining at the end of a race due to the wet weather conditions. In fact, by the end of the race, the entire podium consisted of leftover cars on the track, turning it into a matter of survival rather than speed.

Qualifying for 14th position, Olivier Panis was only two years into his career, with few expecting big things for the French driver. Ultimately, the ever-dwindling number of cars left on the track throughout the race resulted in Panis making his way ahead of David Coulthard and Johnny Herbert to claim the title as the sole win of his career.

Peter Gethin – 1971 Italian Grand Prix

English driver Peter Gethin’s career as a Formula One driver only lasted four years, but of the 30 starts he made in those years, one remains the most iconic amongst racing fanatics. Qualifying for 11th position, Gethin’s start from the middle of the pack put him in contention for a solid finish, but few could have expected what would emerge in result.

After just 78 minutes, Gethin emerged as the winner, though the finish was the closest in history. Beating Ronnie Peterson by 0.01 seconds, Gethin and Peterson were one of five drivers to finish the race within one second, turning the race into the fastest Formula One race until the record-beating 2003 Italian Grand Prix. Gethin might have entered a dark horse, but his electrifying win (the only one of his career) remains one of the most exciting in history.

Nikki Lauda – 1976 Italian Grand Prix

As the 1975 Formula One champion, Austrian driver Nikki Lauda’s reign was short-lived. While racing at the 1976 German Grand Prix, Lauda crashed his Ferrari. Miraculously, he survived, and a mere six weeks later, he was back in the saddle, having missed only two races.

Lauda himself was terrified of returning to the track, but the appeal of making a comeback at the Italian Grand Prix was too great. Ultimately, Lauda’s triumphant return failed to result in a podium placing, rather an impressive finish in fourth. Given his near-fatal accident only weeks earlier, it was a result few could ever imagined. Despite this, Lauda’s career was far from over, with the driver winning 1977 and 1984 F1 Championship titles before retiring in 1985.

Sebastian Vettel – 2008 Italian Grand Prix

Though Sebastian Vettel ended his 15-year career in 2022 as a four-time World Drivers’ Champion and as one of the greatest drivers of all time, it’s important to remember his humble beginnings. At the Italian Grand Prix in September 2008, Vettel was a young upstart driving for Toro Rosso. As one of the youngest drivers to take pole position, hopes were high and expectations tempered. Ultimately, Vettel made good on his reputation, eventually besting Heikki Kovalainen to become the youngest driver to win a Formula One race – a record that would stand until the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.

Buckle up for the Neil Blomkamp-directed Gran Turismo, a wild look at the Formula One experience and an action-packed ode to the world’s most iconic podium wins. Get early access to the film and buy or rent now here, and watch the exclusive extended preview below.

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