Full speed ahead
Olympic legend sir Chris Hoy on following his dream to Le Mans
Winning one of his two golds at London 2012
DOCUMENTARY our years on from becoming Britain’s most successful Olympian – a record since equalled by his fellow track cyclist Jason Kenny – Sir Chris Hoy is recalling how a childhood fantasy turned from pipedream to reality, competing in the world’s greatest sports car race, the Le Mans 24 Hours.
As we’ll see this week in a BBC2 documentary, Chris’s drive in the classic endurance race this June was the culmination of a lifelong passion that had to be secondary to a magnificent cycling career.
He was seven years old when he first became aware of the race, via a Scalextric set. ‘I had a silver and gold Porsche 911, on which the lights came on,’ he says.
‘I remember asking my dad, “Why do these cars have lights and other cars don’t?” He explained that it was to race through the night for 24 hours non-stop at Le Mans.
F‘I remember being amazed by it but never thinking I’d get the chance to do it myself. It must have sparked something, though.’
Chris – part of the excellent
BBC commentary team at the Rio Olympics – was inspired to become a cyclist by the film ET but, while it would go on to consume his time with such success, that spark for motor racing never left him.
He began driving on the track in 2008 and continued to do so in cycling’s close season to relax.
When making a documentary about his hero, the late rally driver Colin Mcrae, he had the chance to take it further, racing in a Radical sports car. He scored a podium place in September 2013.
Nissan were paying attention to his progress, and the company invited Chris to participate in their driver development programme.
‘By the end of the first season when Nissan came on board it stepped up a gear,’ he says. ‘All the support and opportunity started and then Le Mans became the pipedream, the thing to aim for, the end of the rainbow.’
After a podium place in the British GT championship in 2014 and winning a title at the European Le Mans series with teammate Charlie Robertson the following year, he stepped up to the 24 Hour, the ultimate endurance test inaugurated in 1923.
Racing with Britain’s Michael Munemann and France’s Andrea Pizzitola, he finished a creditable 12th in his class and 17th out of 60 overall, enthusing: ‘It’s been the most exhilarating experience.’
Concentrating on the detail is part of how Chris, 40, rationalises the dangers involved.
‘If you considered the risks of everything in life you wouldn’t leave your house,’ he says. ‘But
I’m a father and a husband.
[Chris is married to lawyer Sarra, and they have a son, Callum, who turns two this month.]
‘I don’t do these things for the hell of it. At the same time you accept the risks and acknowledge that there is a risk, that there could be a big crash or worse.
‘But I know I’m not going to put myself in jeopardy by being reckless or being underprepared. I would only ever do this if
I was prepared and ready for it – which I am.’
is previewed on pages 42-43
Chris proudly poses with helmet and team kit at this year’s Nissan launch