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Sir Chris Hoy: PH Meets

Track cyclist turned track driver - Sir Chris Hoy talks racing at Le Mans ahead of a new BBC2 documentary

By Dafydd Wood / Thursday, October 06, 2016

Despite the perceived animosity between those of a two-wheeled persuasion and their fellow road users a passion for cycling is widespread among the car nut community, PH team included. No wonder we have followed Sir Chris Hoy's transition from one set of pedals to the other then. But, even if you haven't paid such close attention, you could do worse than to clear a space in your diary for Sunday at 9pm.

'Chris Hoy: 200mph at Le Mans' follows the decorated Olympian as he prepares to take part in the 2016 running of an event close to PH hearts. In the way of these things the documentary details Hoy's personal journey, whilst also giving a unique insight into the inner workings of his team. Simply put any petrolhead will find a thoroughly engaging hour in the story of Sir Chris's team, Algarve Pro Racing.

It's a raw and uncompromising look into the challenges faced by a Le Mans crew and, in fact, the limelight is regularly stolen by Stewart Cox, an ex-F1 mechanic who, with his wife Samantha, runs the newly founded operation. Let's just say he tells it like it is!

Ahead of the broadcast this weekend we caught up with Hoy to get some further insight into his new career on four wheels and how the film was made.

A few months on from finishing at Le Mans on your first attempt, how do you look back on the experience?
"It was amazing, I had my expectations but it was even better than I thought it could possibly be. The emotion of finishing the race, the way it brought the whole team together, the high of actually driving in the night, probably the highlight for me personally. It was just a magical event and one that I really think I've got the bug for now and I desperately want to get back to."

Obviously you had some experience going into the race, but was there anything particular about Le Mans that took you by surprise?

"Just the endurance test that takes place before you even get in the car, it's a whole week of events and protocols that you've got to go though. There's a risk of becoming really fatigued before you even start the race. I had been warned about that before, but you're trying to throw food down your neck the night before whilst doing your media interviews and that was quite a challenge whilst trying to keep your focus on what you need to do."

Do you think making this documentary alongside has helped you to take stock of the journey you've been on and the progression you've made?
"Yeah, definitely. I think the risk is that you're so much of a tourist and a fan that you can spend your time taking pictures, take your eye off the ball a little bit and not be focused on your performance. Having the film crew with me 24/7 whilst I was out there really allowed me to just get on with the job and just know that it was all being documented. You forget stuff so quickly, you look back and watch a little clip and go 'oh wow.' There's so much, literally hundreds of hours of footage, that I'm desperate to get copies of and just store it so I can sit and look at it in the days, weeks, months to come. It's really wonderful to have it all for future reference and for my son when he gets a bit older to watch and enjoy. All the guys involved are great, they're a fantastic team and I'm sure they'll do a good job of it."

You've risen through the motorsport ranks so quickly, do you ever wonder where you'd be if you'd gone into motorsport at a younger age?

"Not really because it's like everything, the closer you get to the top the harder it is to make improvements. You improve rapidly in your early weeks, months, first couple of years and then it's the law of diminishing returns and it becomes tougher to make those improvements, so I'm under no illusions. What really attracted me to the whole project is that I just really wanted to be a better driver. I'm a massive fan of motorsport and a petrolhead in general, so to be competent or above competent at it, that was a real motivating factor at the beginning. Ultimately it came down to just getting better at driving on track."

Were there any similarities you were able to draw on between racing the bike and the car?
"It's the same mental process of planning ahead. You can't afford to wait because things have happened before you can react so you've got to think and plan ahead. The process of overtaking, of trying to read the other person is very similar too. In cycling it maybe happens only once or twice a race and in motorsport it's happening continuously. You're trying to read the body language to guess what they're going to do. You've also got to focus on what you've got control over and not what could go wrong. As you know in motorsport there are so many things that can go wrong at any one time, that if you were to constantly worry about the concrete wall on your left or the gravel pit on your right or the car behind you then you can freeze or make a mistake. All you can do is focus on what you've got control over."

And how did the realisation that you'd achieved your dream of finishing at Le Mans compare to the feeling of winning an Olympic gold?

"It creeps up on you. The cycling it's sudden, it's build up, build up, build up and then bang. It's over in a few seconds and it's a really intense sudden burst of excitement. Whereas with the motor racing it grows, and grows, and grows until the closer you get the less you want to think about it. You don't want to let yourself think about the finish line because you know there's still two or three hours to go. As we saw even down to the last three minutes something can still happen so you just don't want to let yourself think about the possibility that you're going get across the line. But when you do, then it's really quite emotional and I actually found myself welling up talking to the film crew at the end of it all. Part of it's just extreme fatigue from being up all night, I'd only had an hour's sleep so I was exhausted mentally, but I was emotional because I was elated and you see all the teams and everyone celebrating because they're all finishing, almost no matter where they've come it's just such an achievement to get that car across the line. Some teams have had huge battles to get there, other teams have had a relatively smooth ride, but you've seen the faces of the Toyota guys when that car broke down at the end and it just hit them so much. In a way, as cruel as that was, it'll make next year even more exciting because they're going to come back desperate to win, absolutely hungry."

Cycling and motorsport have both been lifelong passions for you. Now that you've reached such a high level in both where do you set your sights next?
"I'd love to do Le Mans again and just use all the things I've learnt to do it better next time. The aim was to finish the race, we did that, now we'd love to improve our lap times and be closer to the professionals' lap times and potentially finish higher up in the overall order. You can never aim to win or even to be on the podium because there're so many things that can go wrong, it's such a tough race from every possible angle but I'd love to do it again and use everything I've learnt this year to do a better job of it next year."

Chris Hoy: 200mph at Le Mans will be broadcast this Sunday at 9pm on BBC2


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