Allan McNish is backing Chris Hoy’s ambition to compete in the Le Mans 24-hour event he himself won on three occasions. Eyebrows were raised when six-time Olympic cycling champion Hoy announced he was swapping two wheels for four after such a success-laden career.
In a sensible move, one of the first people Hoy turned to for advice was compatriot McNish, who won the race in 1998, 2008 and 2013. McNish was immediately supportive. He told Hoy the basic principles are the same. It’s just that now an engine is doing a lot of the work. Jokingly, McNish said success could hinge on one crucial factor – Hoy being able to reduce his famously well-developed leg muscle.
Being able to fit and feel comfortable inside the cockpit of a car is important in a race that is such a test of endurance. It was only partly in jest when McNish advised Hoy to think about trimming down his sturdy thighs. The cyclist will be required to strengthen his neck muscles in order to combat the lateral g-forces, which McNish knows all about after a long career spanning karting to Formula 1.
But McNish believes Hoy’s competitive instincts will stand him in good stead in his new career. The cyclist has already started along this new road, having competed in this year’s British GT championship. But the Le Mans 24-hour event next year is the ultimate goal. “If you know sport, and he knows sport very well – you don’t win six Olympics by chance – then you understand what is required to be successful,” said McNish. “They are very different categories, two and four wheels. But at the end of the day some of the basic principles are the same.
“He is young enough. He has the competitive edge. He lacks experience in terms of what actually happens on a racetrack. The British GT championship he did in 2014 was a good starter. Now he is going into the closed cockpit LMP3 category. He is slowly building himself up. There is no reason why he cannot achieve his goal.
“Le Mans is about many things,” he continued. “It is not just the ultimate race victory. It is a kind of Mount Everest – everyone has their different reasons for tackling it. For some people it is about finishing the race. Others want to finish on the podium, others want to win outright. But from Chris’s point of view getting there is a big achievement – and an achievable one.
“I am behind him,” added McNish, who retired from full-time racing at the end of 2013, after becoming World Endurance champion. “I have watched his successes on track and look forward to seeing a few more. He needs less leg strength and more neck strength! At the end of the day, his whole life was built around being successful on track and two wheels. The requirement has slightly changed.
“Now he has an engine to do some of that work. What he has to do is develop his body and alter his mindset to the new situation – as a sportsperson you often have to adapt. From a physical point of view, it will be a little more about core fitness because of of g-forces and a little bit less in the leg. I know he is already working on that. It’s not very easy to work on your neck – the best way to do it is just drive a racing car!”
McNish spent yesterday promoting his new role as patron for plans for a new Jim Clark museum in Duns, with this year marking the 50th anniversary of Clark’s most successful campaign. The driver, who was born in Fife but grew up in the Borders, won six consecutive Grand Prix races in 1968 on the way to lifting his second world championship title and also lifted the prestigious Indianapolis 500 title.
Plans for a new museum are awaiting confirmation of a commitment from Scottish Borders Council of over £540,000 capital funding investment to upgrade the existing small museum in Duns. McNish believes few have done more for Scottish sport than Clark, who was tragically killed during a race in Hockenheim in 1968.
“His talent was very clear, even though he was before my time,” said McNish, 45. “He also had presence and that continues – even today, many years down the line, he is inspiring generations. I do feel it is appropriate that he has a museum that is expanded, which is what they are trying to do at Duns. I am very proud if I can play a part in that.
“He really was the first sports person from Scotland to go out and dominate in world sports and he is considered by many to be the best ever. Scotland has a massive heritage in motorsport and Jim started if all off.
“When you speak to Sir Jackie Stewart and ask who was the best, he would instantly say Jim Clark. And Innes Ireland, who was the first Scot to win a Grand Prix, used to talk about some of the things Jim could do. Even those drivers who raced against him and understood from the cockpit what that era was like were in awe.
“The one thing I saw was his agility to jump into different cars – whether it was a F1 car, a touring car or F2 car. It didn’t matter what it was. He was able to drive in it and he was able to win in it. He was a natural.”
l For more information on the Jim Clark museum, visit www.jimclarktrust.com