SIR CHRIS Hoy is making a comeback on the racetrack this summer — but not on two wheels. Instead, he will press the pedal to the metal in a 200mph Ligier racing car in the Le Mans 24 Hours race.
It will be the fulfilment of a childhood dream for Britain’s most successful Olympian. “I was given a Scalextric set when I was five and didn’t understand why the cars had headlights. I became fascinated when my dad explained that at Le Mans they race through the night,” he says.
Hoy, 40, will compete for the Algarve Pro Racing team in the second-tier LMP2 class at Le Mans, which runs from June 18-19. He will share turns at the wheel with a fellow Briton, Michael Munemann, and a Frenchman, Andrea Pizzitola.
“I still have to pinch myself — I can’t believe my luck,” says Hoy. “When I retired from cycling in 2013, I made a documentary on rally driver Colin McRae. It was a chance meet at a circuit during filming that put me in touch with a racing team.”
Hoy grew up in Edinburgh and was inspired to start cycling aged six by the film ET. He competed on BMX bikes at world level until he was 14, before moving up to road and track racing.
“Dad drove me everywhere in his Citroën Xantia with my bike in the back. We did a lot of miles in that car, so I would watch him operate the gearstick and pedals. I used my time in the passenger seat to learn the basics.”
Hoy’s raw sprinting power won him an invitation to train in Manchester alongside Britain’s cycling elite. “I couldn’t expect Dad to make that trip, so it forced me to pass my driving test. I was given the Citroën as my first car but it broke down all the time. It was a shed on wheels.”
The Scotsman clocked up more than 150,000 miles in his Xantia before buying a BMW in 2001. “It was eight years old and not that fast but I loved the 318. I used to park on the road outside my Edinburgh flat and worry that it would be stolen during the night.”
“I was given a Citroën Xantia as my first car but it broke down all the time. It was a shed on wheels”
Hoy traded the BMW for a fast and frugal VW Golf GT TDI two years later. “It had fancy wheels and was hugely practical. I kept it for three years and then bought a more expensive Audi A4 saloon. I’d already won my first Olympic gold at Athens in 2004.”
Three more gold medals followed at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, so Hoy decided to step up a gear and bought his then dream car — a BMW M3 saloon.
“It was the E46 model, the last of the naturally aspirated 3.2 straight-six engines. I thought I’d bought the ultimate car.”
The following year Hoy became an ambassador for Jaguar and was given an XKR. He drove it until he retired, when he formed a motor racing partnership with Nissan and its high-performance GT-R.
“Some people say the GT-R has too much technology and lacks soul but I think the opposite. The only car I’ve driven that’s better is the Ligier I will drive at Le Mans.”
Hoy says he has to stay fit to drive at a competitive level and is exhausted after a day’s track work. “The difference is I don’t have to exercise six hours a day, seven days a week, like I did on a bike.
“I shall miss not competing at Rio this summer but racing a car has helped ease me away from the intense pressure of cycling.”
Sir Chris Hoy: My life in cars
- 1996: Citroën Xantia 1.9 D
- 2001: BMW 318i (used)
- 2003: VW Golf GT TDI
- 2008: BMW M3 (E46)
- 2009: Jaguar XKR
- 2013: Nissan GT-R
- My dream car: 2016 Ligier JS P2 (LMP2 racing car)
- 1996 Citroën Xantia 1.9 D
- 2001 BMW 318i
- 2003 VW Golf GT TDI
- 2008 BMW M3
- 2009 Jaguar XKR
- 2013 Nissan GT-R (main picture)
- My dream car 2016 Ligier JS LMP2 racing car