Sir Chris Hoy is best known for being a cycling hero and Britain’s greatest-ever Olympian, but he’s also a massive motorsport fan. It’s that passion, and his love of competition, that has led to the Scotsman joining the British GT Championship this year.
Hoy’s motorsport passion began when he played on a Scalextric set as a youngster. And that set was his first introduction to the Le Mans 24 Hours. “I had a little car that the lights came on,” he says. “I asked my dad why that one had lights that worked when the others didn’t. He said ‘that’s a Le Mans car. They need to drive at night.’ That logged in my brain.”
When still active in cycling, Hoy bought himself a track day car, taking part in untimed sessions on various British racing circuits during the off-season. Following Hoy’s retirement from the velodrome last year, he contested a full season in the Radical SR1 Cup, an entry-level sportscar championship.
Things have stepped up considerable for this year: Hoy has been picked up by Nissan, and will share a GT-R Nismo GT3 with sportscar expert Alex Buncombe in the championship. The long-term plan is to contest the Le Mans 24 Hours.
British GT is a good place for Hoy to race: the series rules mean that cars have to field one ‘professional’ and one ‘amateur’ driver, so Hoy’s inexperience won’t be as much of an issue as it would be elsewhere.
But don’t think GT racing is all about genteel amateur competition. British GT is one of the strongest racing championships in the country, with a capacity grid, incredibly talented drivers and numerous manufacturer-backed machines. Those machines are performance tested and then balanced out, so the competition is close. The ‘endurance racing’ tag is a misnomer: the racing is as intense and spectacular as you’ll find.
Thankfully, Hoy can draw on the experience of team-mate Buncombe and the RJN Nissan squad that will run his car. He says: “Everybody has been really welcoming and is trying to simplify things. There’s no pressure either: the pressure comes from myself. I want to go out on track straight away and perform as well as I can, and they’ll say ‘just take it steady, and improve gradually.’”
A big bonus for Hoy is that his competition and racing experience will be a huge asset: if you can cope with the pressure of an Olympic Keirin final, you can cope with anything. “I’m really excited to have a new opportunity, a new ladder that I’m on the bottom rung of,” says Hoy. “With cycling I was at the top of a ladder and to improve I had to find tiny fractions, but in motorsport I’m right down the bottom of the curve with, hopefully, a steep improvement ahead of me.”
The support of Nissan will be crucial. This is the firm that runs the GT Academy competition that has turned PlayStation gamers into Le Mans class winners. Hoy is a far more polished prospect: he already knows how to handle the pressure of a big race. All Nissan has to do is help him refine his driving skills.