We’re used to seeing him powering over bicycle wheels, but now the former champion cyclist has his sights set on something much, much faster

 

This week Chris Hoy made another important step in his young motor racing career. From the 2nd of  November Hoy, along with Charlie Robertson made his LMP2 testing debut for Greaves Motorsport as reward for winning the LMP3 Championship.

Why is this important? Why does this one test matter you may ask? Firstly, it shows that Chris Hoy is serious about his motor racing career, that it isn’t just a distraction after his long and successful cycling career that yielded a record five gold medals at the Australian, Greek, Chinese and British Olympic Games. Secondly, it is an exciting development for an athlete so famous for his prowess on two wheels to be making his way on four just as John Surtees did when he switched from 500cc motorbikes to Formula One.

Hoy, like any other driver, has had to work hard through the ranks until being noticed by a big name, not that anyone wouldn’t notice an Olympic Champion on the grid at Brands Hatch in a Radical SR3. But noticed Hoy was and by Nissan no less who invited him to join their driver development programme, famous for running at GT Academy competition that invites gamers to see if they can transfer their skills from the digital world to the real world as part of its tie-up with Gran Turismo. This programme, much like that run by Red Bull has produced some stunning drivers over the years such  as Lucas Ordoñez, now a regular in the Le Mans series and Jann Mardenborough, a race winner in one of the major feeder series to Formula 1, GP3. Like Red Bull, Nissan also fields a race time in the echelons of motorsport, except they run in the top class of sports cars, LMP1, with their innovatively experimental GTR-LM Nismo 1250bhp front-engined four-wheel drive prototype.

Sadly, this is where Hoy, and Charlie Robertson, hit a roadblock. The development of this prototype has had a notoriously rough birth. Due to the nature of the design and concerns over safety, the car was prevented from running in the season opening 6 Hours of Silverstone and also round two, the 6 Hours of Spa. This meant that it made its debut at the blue-ribbon event of the season, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with limited testing under its belt due to changes to the cockpit design to meet FIA Safety Standards. In qualifying for Le Mans it was found that along the Mulsanne Straight, it reached speeds above those of its rivals and in the wet it had great stability due to the majority of its power going through the front wheels.

However, it was in the corners that the car suffered greatly with understeer after the hybrid four-wheel drive system, which sent twenty per cent of the power to the rear wheels, being abandoned due to reliability issues that forced the team to send all power through the front driveshaft. This, combined with developments from Toyota, Audi and Porsche in particular meant that the GTR-LM Nismo would qualify only two seconds faster than the Zytek Z11SN that Hoy is driving this week. In the race, Nissan, being aware that even points were impossible, resigned themselves to a twenty-four test session that yielded a triple retirement from the team. Days later, Nissan openly declared that the team would not be running the car in any of the remaining races, delaying the car’s competitive comeback until the 2016 Season.

Even in light of the problems that Nissan are facing with their prototype, Hoy still has a strong goal to aim for Le Mans and he is with the perfect programme to support his journey. Nissan currently supply engines for most of the teams in the LMP2 category, with Greaves and Jota among their ranks. It must also be remembered however, that while Hoy is arguably the most famous driver on their programme it will not be his celebrity that will get him a race seat; he will still have to impress and outperform the other drivers.

His success in the LMP3 Championship was down to pure talent as opposed to pure celebrity. His speed in the LMP2 Test this week will show Nissan whether he can move up into the World Endurance Championship against competitive teams like OAK Racing and G-Drive. Hoy’s future in motorsport is only as bright as the speed at which he drives.