Chances are that if you’ve been following Sir Chris Hoy’s Le Mans journey so far, you’ll have already heard his famous Scalextric cars story.
It’s been woven into almost every interview the Scotsman has done since announcing he would be taking the wheel of an LMP2 racer at Le Mans this year. But if not, here’s the short version:
As a boy, the young Hoy would play with Scalextric slot car racers at home and, one year, received a miniature version of the Circuit de la Sarthe. With everything ready to go, Hoy asked his father why some of the cars have lights on, and others don’t. Ah, said his father, that’s so they can race at night, just like in the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Racing at night is something Hoy will have to get used to this year, as he’s currently scheduled to take the second stint of racing at today’s Le Mans, which will carry him into dusk and early evening. The Algarve Pro Racing team is starting 29th on the grid - towards the rear of the LMP2 field - and the Nissan-powered Ligier JS P2 will be driven by Hoy alongside team-mates Michael Munemann and Andrea Pizzitola.
For Hoy, this is the completion of a journey which began back in 2013, when the six-time Olympic cycling champion first expressed a desire to go motor racing. The switch from two wheels to four has seen Hoy compete in the Radical SR1 Cup - the same championship which Autocar's own Mark Tisshaw entered last year - race in the British GT Championship, train alongside Nissan’s GT Academy drivers and, in 2015, pilot an LMP3 car in the five-round European Le Mans Series.
Hoy admits that LMP2 prototype racing is a step up from what he’s done before, but says the advice he’s received from veteran drivers like Mark Webber and Allan McNish has been invaluable.
One of the biggest demands of an endurance race like Le Mans will be the mental stresses the drivers go through over 24 hours of racing: “It’s not so much the muscular fatigue, but the mental fatigue,” says Hoy “It’s nothing like being on a bike where your body is exhausted - here it’s your brain which reaches that exhaustion point. It’s mentally similar [to cycling], it’s the focus required for an extended period of time.
“If I was doing an endurance race on the bike I'm always trying to distract myself from the pain I'm feeling in my legs. In the car everything is focusing on what I'm doing - so when I get out of the car you’re sweating and tired.”
And what of the LMP2 car he’s driving? “The visibility isn’t great. You’re better with the open-topped cars for visibility, but the closed cockpit cars are safer. You get in the car and realise that because of the high wheel arches and the low seating position you can’t see anything out of the windscreen. So when you’re turning into a corner you lose sight of the apex after the initial turn in. You’ve just got to hope that you hit it. You do it on peripheral vision.”
“LMP2 is the best category for an amateur driver, I like being here and that’s the dream category for me.”
While Nissan and the Algarve Pro Racing team have set their own targets for today’s race, Hoy’s own target is simple enough: “I would love to just make it to the finish line, and to finish the 24 hours on my first attempt would be great. People say that if you’re still moving after 24 hours, you’ll be in the top 10 anyway, you’ve just got to stay out of trouble and be consistent.”