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Jann Mardenborough blasts the 2017 GT-R up Goodwood hill
TG catches up with the gamer-turned-racer at the Festival of Speed
TG has followed the progress of Jann Mardenborough ever since he won the GT Academy back in 2011. One of barely a dozen to turn success in the gaming programme into a fully-fledged career in motorsport, he is now competing in All-Japan Formula Three and the GT300 class in the Super GT series.
His journey in motorsport appeared to be going from strength to strength when he landed an LMP1 drive with Nissan following his podium finish in LMP2 at Le Mans in 2013, but the manufacturer’s struggles and eventual withdrawal from the top tier of the World Endurance Championship saw that door close as quickly as it had opened.
And there was a much more harrowing experience to come as a crash at the Nürburgring last year led to the death of a spectator, something which led him to seek advice and reassurance from Allan McNish, who suffered a similar ordeal after an accident at Donington in 1990.
Now 24 years old, Jann is living and racing in Japan, about as far away as its possible to get from hometown Cardiff. After enjoying a pulsating run up the hill in the 2017 Nissan GT-R at the Goodwood Festival of Speed (see the video above), we asked him if he’d overcome recent woes and if a seat in F1 was still his ultimate goal…
You’re racing in Japanese Formula Three and GT300 this year. How’s that going?
“Japanese Formula Three and GT300 are going well. I’m leading the championship in GT300 and I’m second in Japanese Formula Three at the moment. I think it’s been two wins and in total something like six podiums, which is great. I like racing out there, it’s going well this year.”
This is your second stint in F3. How are you finding it compared to last time?
“Getting into motorsport is not conventional the way I have from gaming, but I’ve done Formula Three in the past, then gone up to GP3 which is seen as a step up. And now I’ve gone back down to Formula Three. But I’m loving Formula Three because now I have the experience to exploit myself better, exploit the tools that I’ve been given better. The information that I provide is better because I just have more experience.
“And results are better because I’m just faster as a driver. The differences are that physically I’m stronger and I know what I want now in the car. I know when a change is needed and what change is needed, whereas in 2013 when I did Formula Three last time I didn’t know what I wanted because it was so new. I wasn’t in tune with the car, so this year is much more how it should be. I’m enjoying it a lot.”
It’s a few years since you graduated from the GT Academy. It must feel like a lifetime ago…
“I won the GT Academy back in 2011, so it’s been five years now. It seems a long time away. I would say the last two years I feel like the ‘gamer’ tag has been dropped a little bit. I don’t hear it as often as I did in the first three years. It’s a bit strange but at the same time it’s great because you’re showing the world that you’re an established driver through GT Academy, and that’s great.
“I kind of miss it as well. There’s only around 11 of us that have done the route that we have through gaming, so it’s quite a unique tag to have. I’ve been racing lots of different things in countries which I never thought I’d get to visit, let alone race in. I’m trying to do my best, give 100 per cent and continue this on for as long as possible. So far it’s going well.”
What’s life like in Japan?
“It’s very different, it’s a completely different culture to the Western world. It’s like visiting another planet sometimes. The people are very lovely, they’re kind people. The racing is great, it’s absolutely fantastic. I’m living out there currently in an apartment which Nismo and GT Academy have provided. The language barrier is a bit difficult sometimes, especially in an engineering meeting or meetings in general where you could be sat down for 15 minutes and not understand what we’re talking about! My engineer speaks good English, so anything that’s directed my way can be translated.
“I know some basic Japanese. So ‘good morning’ is ‘ohayō’, ‘good afternoon’ is obviously ‘kon’nichiwa’ which people use all the time. They’ll laugh at you if you use ‘kon’nichiwa’ in the morning and it’s wrong! And the other one is ‘good evening’ which is ‘konbanwa’. There are phrases that I can understand, I just can’t put a sentence together yet. But I’m still learning and still picking up the lingo.”
You grew up in Cardiff. Do you prefer life in the Welsh capital or in Japan?
“Life in Cardiff, because it’s what I know and what I’ve grown up with. It’s where I’ve been living for 22 years, so if I had to choose between Japan and Cardiff, it would be Cardiff. But to have the experience to live in Japan is something I never thought would ever happen. There were three places that I wanted to visit when I was a teenager: America, Dubai and Japan. And I’ve raced in all three of those places. I’m living a very fortunate career.”
You’ve said F1 is your target, but will it bother you if you don’t make it?
“I’ve always been in that place where I let things happen and unfold because what has happened in general is wacky anyway. Nobody could predict what had happened in 2011, how far the programme has gone. How far the drivers at GT Academy have gone. We’ve been LMP1 drivers, we’ve raced in Japan, we’ve raced in America, we’ve raced the biggest GT championships in the world and single seaters in GP2. So no one can predict anything.
“Formula One is still the goal, it’s the dream. But I just take each day as it comes and just enjoy what I’m driving at the moment. I enjoy racing any car. Pushing a car to its limits whether it be a car that’s got 100hp or one that’s got 600hp. It’s the same principle. F1 would be the goal because it’s the top of motorsport and you want to achieve that. But I wouldn’t be devastated if that didn’t happen. The competitive nature in me wants it to happen, but I’m just going with it.”
Your incident at the Nürburgring must have been devastating. Have you overcome the ordeal?
“Let’s just say that that track is still my favourite track ever. It’s still hard to talk about, but the job that we’re in, we don’t expect things like that to happen, but sometimes they do. To get over that, you have to have the correct people around you, and I’ve had that. It’s enabled me to continue doing what I’m doing, but better. It’s still my favourite circuit in the world, it’s incredible.”
You’re 24 now. What do you want to achieve with the rest of your career?
“I want to continue racing as a professional driver with a manufacturer until my 50s, that’d be the ultimate goal. Maybe 50s would be stretching it far for a factory driver! Actually no, there are mid 40s drivers still racing with manufacturers. I want to race lots of things, but as long as I’m racing as a professional driver for as long as possible, until I know I physically can’t do what my brain is telling me to do, that’s when I’ll stop. I’m hoping that’s when I’m really grey. A long way away…”