Sir Chris drives Le Mans 17 | 06 | 2014

    SIR CHRIS HOY is a bit of a pedaller. That much we've always known, as his six Olympic Gold medals pays testament to. But now the 38-year-old Scot has swapped his bike and two wheels, for a Nissan Nismo (short for Nissan Motorsport) and four wheels: and the petrolhead is targeting the world's greatest endurance race, the Le Mans 24-Hours.

    Hoy, who is competing in this year's British GT Championship behind the wheel of a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 with Team RJN, took time out from his hectic schedule to pay a flying visit to watch the build-up and the opening hours of the classic French race a couple of days ago.

    In 2016, he plans to return with Nissan to race for the full energy-sapping, intense, gruelling 24-hours.

    This time though, within minutes of being eased through security and the thronging 263,000 mass of spectators who flocked to the 8.27-mile La Sarthe circuit — most of which is run on closed-off public roads normally used by French cars, HGVs and tractors — Hoy was in his element: travelling at 130mph down the Mulsanne Straight.

    Fortunately, as he pulled on his crash helmet, clunk-clicked his seatbelt and fired up the engine of his Nissan Juke Nismo, I had the best seat in the house: right next to him in the passenger seat (Sir Chris pictured with Jim McGill).

    "It doesn't really get any better than this," Hoy admitted as we sat, air-conditioning on as the sun blasted the French Tarmac and we waited for the marshal to wave the green flag to let him loose on the circuit.

    "My first time at Le Mans, and within half-an-hour of arriving I'm whistled out to do a lap of the track. Not even a passenger lap, but I'm actually driving. It's brilliant!"

    We're fed on to the circuit at the top of the Mulsanne Straight, rather than exiting via the pits, and within seconds the musclebound cyclist we're used to seeing bulging out of his Team GB lycra is locked in concentration. Worth highlighting too, he's only a kilo lighter nowadays.

    Ahead of us is an £85k, 550bhp Nissan GT-R: our 20 grand Nismo Juke boasts just 197bhp from its 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine.

    In a straight line, the GT-R eases away, but as we approach the first right-left chicane, Hoy's British GT experience is immediately noticeable. Braking later for the turn-in and smoother through the corners, we're back on the tail of the significantly more powerful GT-R.

    The long run to the left-right chicane sees the speedo hit 130mph: its max is supposedly 134!

    Hoy's now into the swing of things. Braking even later, and more aggressive, running over the rumble strips as we exit the final par of the chicane, again we're quicker than the GT-R.

    "Got a bit of wheelspin there," Hoy says as he spears the car towards the sharp right-hander at Mulsanne.

    The rest of the lap passes in what appears to be almost the blink of an eye. Before we know it, we're accelerating up the start/finish straight, through the Dunlop Chicane and under the famous Dunlop Bridge, sharp right at Tertre Rouge, and we're confronted by the marshal and his yellow flag waving us off the circuit.

    "I can't believe how quickly that lap passed," Hoy explains later as we sit and chat. "It was much shorter in reality to what I'd expected it to be.

    "In places it was narrower and bumpier than I thought it would be, and the barriers are very close to the track. You can definitely see why it could be, is, a dangerous circuit.

    Related: Sir Chris targets Le Mans 24-Hours

    "I've 'driven' the circuit a few times on Playstation, but it changes completely when you get on to it in real life."

    Hoy, who has been partnered in the opening three rounds of the British GT with team-mate, Nissan Academy graduate Alex Buncombe, heads to Snetterton this weekend. Three rounds down, how has the Scot seen his racecraft develop?

    "It's definitely coming on," he smiled. "But the racing instinct is there from my cycling days. I love reading the body language of the other cars, identifying the signals of what the other cars and drivers are going to do.

    "You kind of learn how people think, whether it's a bike or cars, it's the same thing. It's strategy: people react in certain ways and it's about trying to read that and react to it.

    "There are definite parallels from cycling. You can see people get emotional during races. You know that if you just kept annoying them; if you got behind them and keep pushing, you don't need to do anything else. In the end they watch their rear mirrors more than looking ahead and eventually they make a mistake."

    Hoy may have stopped competing on two wheels, but his schedule continues to rotate at breakneck speed.

    In addition to his motorsport exploits, the Olympian has launched Hoy Bikes, his own range of cycles — which he's involved directly in from the design and development stages — is a member of the Scottish Rugby Union Advisory Board, works with Unicef, and is an ambassador for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

    I quizzed him on reports that he'd apparently been 'snubbed' by the Games' bosses in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies. Has he been asked?

    "Officially I can't say anything," he smiled again. "So read into that what you will. If I was doing something, I couldn't say anything about it. Let's put it this way: if I was asked to do anything, it would be a massive honour."

    That, I would suggest, is a sizeable hint that Hoy will have a role to play. And after the Games he can get back to focusing on ensuring his dream to race at Le Mans becomes reality.

    Related: Sir Chris gets 195mph GT-R

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    Jim McGill


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