DCSIMG

Chris Hoy’s driving ambition to be on Le Mans grid

Sir Chris Hoy behind the wheel of his Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3

Sir Chris Hoy behind the wheel of his Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3

  • by JIM MCGILL
 

For mere mortals it is something of a quantum leap from a BMX bike bought by your mum for a fiver at a jumble sale in Musselburgh, to racing at close to 200mph in the world’s greatest endurance race, the Le Mans 24-Hours. But when you’re akin to a modern-day superman like Sir Chris Hoy: well, it’s just what you do, isn’t it?

It seems the logical transition. Having conquered the world on two wheels — six Olympic gold medals and ten world championships — the next step should be to up the ante, and the speed, to four wheels.

The 38-year-old hasn’t quite parked his bike — he still rides regularly, often using the excuse to his Edinburgh lawyer wife, Sara, that he is helping to 
“develop and test” his own range of very successful Hoy Bikes — but his primary competitive focus now is behind the wheel of his Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 in the British GT Championship.

Having always enjoyed the fun and buzz of blasting round a circuit on track days, Hoy last year dipped his toe into motorsport by racing a Mazda in Australia, and competing in a novice Radical series in the UK. Not only did he enjoy the experience, but he impressed.

No surprise then that when Nissan — which is supporting the British Olympic Association and sponsoring Team GB in Rio in 2016 — was looking for an ambassador, they turned to Hoy.

That explains why, four hours before the start of the Le Mans 24 Hours last Saturday, we are sitting in the Nissan hospitality unit sheltering from the baking sun and watching the “crash, bang, wallop” of the Porsche Carrera Cup race on the 8.27-mile circuit live on the big TV.

“With Nissan partnering the Olympic Games and coming onboard to support the British Olympic team, they were looking for someone to help with that programme,” Hoy explained.

“Aside from the motorsport aspect, I was dead keen to get involved with that anyway; but then, once onboard, I thought that maybe I could potentially wangle some sort of motorsport opportunity at the same time. And it all just worked out.”

The thought of Hoy “wangling” anything for his own self-indulgent benefit is to completely underestimate and misinterpret his drive and desire to succeed. It’s clear the competitive hunger to win which took him to his cycling glory now manifests itself in his fledgling motorsport career.

“I’m very aware I’m in a position of privilege, because there are so many people who would do anything to be in the position I’m in,” said Hoy. “So I’ve never taken it lightly and just turned up, mucked around and had a laugh. I am having fun, don’t get me wrong, but I’m trying to become a better driver and take it seriously.

“And, of course, it’s not just about me. It’s about every single person in the team who has worked tirelessly to make sure the car’s ready. To make sure that everything’s right about the car’s set-up.

“When I turned up for the first round at Oulton Park and saw the scale of the British GT operation – the massive trucks; the big motorhomes; the tyre-warmers; the fleet of engineers; the amount of data – that’s when I realised, ‘Hey, this is pretty serious’.

“In a way I thought, ‘Right, it’s not just me turning up and going into a novice race series, this is proper championship with a lot of money being spent on it’. So I was – and am – determined to do myself justice in being in the car.

“I’m obviously never going to become a great driver, but I would like to become a good driver.”

Partnered by Nissan Academy graduate Alex Buncombe in the opening three rounds of the British GT Championship, Hoy – who is in action again this weekend at Snetterton – has 
already made an impression with his levels of pace and competitiveness.

But he acknowledges he has to maintain a rapid level of 
development if he is to achieve his goal of racing at Le Mans with Nissan in 2016-17.

“I know I’ve a long way to go, but we’re all working hard to achieve the goal,” he admitted. “The bulk of the Le Mans grid may be former F1 and professional drivers, but there are still technically amateur drivers in there. I will get to the level which will allow me to race here.”

Before settling in front of the TV, Hoy had enjoyed his first experience of the daunting La Sarthe circuit, much of which is actually closed-off public roads normally used by cars, tractors, HGVs and cyclists.

Sitting beside him, crash helmets on, as he powered his Nissan Nismo Juke down the Mulsanne Straight at 130mph before sweeping through the chicanes, it is blatantly clear Hoy can not only drive, but can drive competitively.

“I can’t believe how quickly that lap passed,” he admitted. “It was much shorter in reality to what I’d expected it to be. I’ve ‘driven’ the circuit a few times on Playstation, but it changes completely when you get on to it in real life.”

Hoy has already made so many dreams become reality, and it is abundantly clear he has the determination, enthusiasm and motivation to be on the Le Mans grid in two years.

 

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