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A quick chat with Sir Chris Hoy
Sir Chris Hoy is minding his own business in Nissan’s full-blown race simulator when TopGear.com first spots him. He’s fast and very committed.
Pretty soon a small group turns up, which just happens to include the legendary creator of epochal computer game Gran Turismo, Kazanori Yamauchi, and Jann Mardenborough, gamer turned pro racer via Nissan’s inspired GT Race Academy.
Hoy’s focus remains absolute - you don’t win six Olympic gold medals by allowing yourself to be distracted, no matter who it is.
The last time TG.com saw Sir Chris, he’d just used the only Nismo GTR in Europe to displace three sets of hay bales during a decidedly feisty and ultimately fateful run up the hill at the Goodwood FOS (he was renamed Sir Chris Hay). We weren’t planning to mention it, to be honest, but he decides to get it out of the way nice and early as he wedges himself into a chair in front of a small group of nosey hacks.
Besides, Hoy’s just nabbed a second place podium finish at Spa, with team-mate Wolfgang Reip, in round eight of the British GT Championship in his Nismo GTR GT3…
TG: How are things?
CH: It was my first time at Spa, which is quite an intimidating place to turn up at and has a definite aura about it. It was nice to get our first podium there soon after the incident at Goodwood. [pause] The car wasn’t a write-off, by the way. It was just a wrinkle…
TG: What’s the biggest difference between motor racing and cycling?
CH: It comes down to the time available in the car. I was cycling sometimes seven hours a day, in the gym three times a week, you could do as much as you needed to. I might have had two or three test days this year, outside of the races, so it’s all about maximising the opportunities you get in the car. During a race weekend, there are so many other things going on while you’re trying to take stuff in and learn. So it’s about really utilising the time you have in the car. Then there’s the simulator, I watch footage online, and playing Gran Turismo 6 helps. I have the wheel and pedal box and everything.
TG: What do you make of the gamer-to-racer phenomenon?
CH: It would have seemed crazy a decade ago. Nobody in motorsport would have thought it was possible. But Jann has proved it can be done, although you need the drive and determination to go with the skill at the game. It’s also made motorsport more accessible. It’s usually seen as elitist, and anything that opens up the sport is good.
TG: Are there many specific elements that cross over from cycling to motor racing? Psychological strength?
CH: The ability to concentrate, to visualise, take on and process information, and learn new skills - that’s shared. I’m used to listening to my coach, and it’s the same with the instructors here. Even sitting in the car at the start of the race, feeling the excitement, adrenalin and the fear, and being able to push aside all the things that aren’t in your control and focus on what you need to do and how to achieve it. As a driver, you’re at the centre and you’re executing the performance. But you also realise that you’re just a small cog in a much bigger machine. The key thing is to focus on the things you have control over, and not worry about the stuff you can’t influence.
TG: Did you need to do something to channel your adrenalin once you’d decided to retire?
CH: Well, I wouldn’t have continued cycling at a lower level. Cycling completely took over my life, every single thing I did was done to push my body to get the most out of it. It was an extreme thing to do. I wasn’t able to race when I was cycling, and it’s nice to do something primarily because you enjoy it. I had a Caterham, and I would do a handful of track days.
TG: It wasn’t going to be tiddlywinks, was it?
CH: No. And it wasn’t long before I was filming my performance on track days, watching it back, and working out where I could make up time. I’m just naturally competitive. It’s a new challenge, and I’m enjoying being at the bottom of a new ladder as opposed to being at the top of another one where you had very little scope for improvement. I was fighting for years to find a tiny improvement, whereas now the improvements are still fairly big.
TG: Did you watch motor racing when you were growing up?
CH: Yep. But I was more into rallying, and I was a huge fan of Colin McRae in particular. I made a documentary about him for the BBC, which was a very emotional experience. His cars and bikes are all still at the family home. I’ve got to know his dad Jimmy very well, who’s an equally remarkable man.
TG: Congratulations on the podium finish at Spa. How was Eau Rouge?
CH: I built it up in my head to such an extent that I thought it was going to be more terrifying than it was. My team-mate Wolfgang showed me how to do it, told me to have faith in the car, and I’d looked at the data. When you nail it for the first time, and you’re flat and you feel the car go light at the top, then you get closer and closer to the wall on the exit… it’s an amazing feeling. It’s actually a similar feeling to the centrifugal force you feel in the velodrome. It’s about looking ahead, you’re always looking ahead in the velodrome to pick the line you need, you’re not looking down in front of you. It’s the same in a racing car.
TG: How’s the Championship going in general?
CH: I’m enjoying it. It’s a tough series. The reception has been really good, though it helped that I didn’t come in claiming I was going to be brilliant. I showed respect. In the first few races, there were a few little nudges. That’s natural, but hopefully you can make it clear you’re not going to crumble under pressure. Plus, most of the drivers are mad keen on cycling, so the respect was mutual…