Chris Hoy - the Olympian Changes Track

With the Olympic Games in Rio just a couple of weeks away, Team GB's most prolific medal winner, Sir Chris Hoy, predicts an impressive haul of 8-10 golds for our talented road and track cyclists. But Hoy, talking at the News International Building in London last week, revealed that it's four wheels, not two, that are currently the centre of his attention.

Sir Chris Hoy MBE

Sir Chris Hoy MBE

Last month, Hoy, 40, took part in his first Le Mans 24 hour endurance motor race and now he's hungry for more: "It was an amazing experience; I loved every second of it, definitely want to do it again, and all the things I wanted to learn from it I want to try and bring back and improve. It's hard to explain, if you're not into motorsports, just how much of a thrill it is to race on this circuit. It's a unique event."

While Chris Boardman, Sean Kelly and David Millar moved from pro cycling into commentating, Victoria Pendleton has been busy carving a new career as a jump jockey. Hoy looks to follow their footsteps having caught the motor racing bug post retirement. "Vicky's doing really well, isn't she, she's not quite replaced her career with it but she's almost training full time now."

chris hoy

For those cyclist readers not au fait with the classic French motor race, Le Mans takes place every year in the eponymous town, running on the Circuit de la Sarthe - a mix of closed public roads and a specialist racing circuit. Racing teams have to balance speed with the cars' ability to run for 24 hours without sustaining mechanical damage. In cycling terms, it compares with the 24 hour velodrome race - the origin of the Six Day Races. So maybe not a million miles from Hoy's track roots after all. 

Teams of three drivers take it in turns to race the 8.45 mile circuit in a sporty, but reliable, fuel efficient car. The furthest distance covered in 24 hours was 3,360 miles in 2010 and drivers frequently travel at speeds of 200 mph. Hoy likened the experience to "playing a video game really intensely non stop for 3-4 hours without even blinking!"

The audience of Times + members at the stunning News International building opposite The Shard

The audience of Times + members at the stunning News International building opposite The Shard

Hoy got into the Le Mans race thanks to sponsorship from Nissan UK. "It started out as fun; I was driving on the track back in 2008 just doing track days and then I was doing a documentary about one of my heroes called Colin McRea, a rally driver, a world champion in the mid 90s, tragically killed in a helicopter accident...It was during that documentary that I had the chance to start racing. A guy from Radical Sportscars was at the track, and he said, 'do you feel like racing?' so initially it was all fun, it was like 'wow', this is a boyhood dream getting to race cars, how fun is that?"

sir chris hoy

"But then it just started to grow legs and spiralled a little bit and I finished my first season, did ok, Nissan came on board as a British Olympic partner/sponsor and they asked if I'd be interested in being an ambassador for them and mentoring with their Olympic partnership and I said 'that'd be great.'"

Nissan run an academy for virtual driver Playstation gamers to get them into motor racing with the aim of winning a podium position at Le Mans. They enjoyed their first success with this programme back in 2010. After that, Nissan thought it would be interesting to try the same method with a sportsman from a different discipline to see if they could make that transition too.

"I was just in the right place at the right time and it's been amazing," said Hoy. "I raced GT cars in 2014, I raced the European Le Mans series last year, we won the European Le Man Series Championship, and that got us entry into the Le Mans series this year. We finished 17th out of 60 teams against the top teams... you're against some of the best drivers in the world," said the six times Olympic champion and 11 time world champion former cyclist.

Hoy completed the race in a Nissan-powered Algarve Pro Racing Ligier LMP2 sportscar - partnered by Frenchman Andrea Pizzitola and fellow Brit Michael Munemann. The three drivers split the racing equally between them so there was no shirking of duties for Hoy or hiding behind the skill of his teammates.

"It's obviously an endurance challenge, but mentally it's very similar because you're focusing on what you have control over - you're not thinking about the things that can go wrong... you just focus on the process, the abc of what do I need to do to do the best I can in this race.

"In the car it's the same, if you come down towards a corner, at Le Mans you do 200mph on the Mulsanne Straight; it's a dangerous sport, things can go wrong, wheels fall off, things can happen to the car completely out of your control... For me it was about focusing on what I actively had control over... never switching off for a minute mentally... The physical challenge wasn't the biggest part of it - it was the mental challenge - you come out the car exhausted, completely drained."

"It definitely started out as fun, but once you get out onto the track that competitive instinct kicks in and having been there once, I want to go back again and inevitably once you've had a little bit of success you want a little bit more. The dream would be to get to the podium - and if you get to the podium you may as well win it... With the LMP2 category it is possible."

Hoy will be travelling to the Rio Olympics as an ambassador of Nissan Sport. Who knows what more he can achieve in his second career? With Hoy's determination and circuit skills, we think the sky's the limit. Here's hoping for a podium position in 2017!