I have no idea when Sunday evenings became synonymous with speed, well on the lesser channels anyway. While BBC One and ITV are doing their big period dramas such as Poldark and Victoria, which play better to the female audience, BBC Two and Channel 4 are getting down and dirty with oil, machines and testosterone. Top Gear was (until the last series) a flag pole propping up BBC Two’s evening schedule and on Sunday we finally had that old “how would Sir Chris Hoy fair if he entered Le Mans” question which, no one had been asking, answered.
Sir Chris is one of our most decorated and most popular Olympians and definitely has the biggest thigh muscles of any GB medal winner. (Oh hold on, do the horses get medals when they do the horse dancing thing? They might have bigger leg muscles. Actually, thinking about it…no, I still think Sir Chris wins.) Since retiring (yeah I know retiring at 36, this isn’t Greece you know Chris) he has been kicking his heels, not sure what to do next. I mean he popped up at the Olympics at Rio as a commentator, but I’m guessing that won’t pay the bills for the next four years. He decided to upgrade from two wheels to four and change going around a velodrome to going around a racing track…for a very long time. 24 hours in fact.
The one thing that is the same is that he still has a very uncomfortable seat. He has traded in his saddle which was akin to sitting on a razorblade to a seat that left him unable to walk. He had managed to secure a ride with Algarve Pro Racing (nope, never heard of them either). Technically they are amateurs, but they still need lot of money to enter a team at Le Mans. The star of the show wasn’t Sir Chris though, but Stewart, the Team Principal. He spent most of the race swearing while wearing his helmet perched on his head at a jaunty angle. He was like a character from central casting: “I want a mechanic type. Tall, sweary and condescending. Must be able to suck air through his teeth and go “Ooh, that’s going to cost you.””.
We did learn one thing about Sir Chris though; if motor racing doesn’t work out, he could get a job as a barista. This man is obsessed with perfection. We saw him make a coffee, and throw it away as he hadn’t quite ground the coffee correctly. Actually perhaps he wouldn’t be any good as a barista. The queue is bad enough in coffee shops with them writing your name on your cup, trying to sell you a muffin and scanning your loyalty card. Imagine how much longer it would take if the barista then began throwing away the coffee as he hadn’t poured it correctly.
Once behind the wheel Sir Chris seemed to be a natural. Driver that is. As an on screen personality he doesn’t exactly buzz and fizz, but by the end of the programme I was genuinely interested in how this ragtag team did. I hate to say it, but the programme would have been no less enjoyable if Sir Chris wasn’t in it. It was the David and Goliath battle that was more interesting. It did leave me with a new admiration for those Le Mans drivers though. Three hours on the M1 is bad enough for me, but a three hour stint on a Le Mans race track is something else. At least on the M1 you can stop for a Costa. If you want a coffee after your driving shift at Le Mans you better get your order in before you go out to give Sir Chris a chance to get it just right.
Guy Martin is not an Olympian (well not until being a professional Wolverine impersonator becomes an Olympic sport); but he has spirit by the gallon. Best known as a TT legend and Grimsby’s most famous non-fish export, Guy appears to be a man who knows no fear. In Speed with Guy Martin (not be confused with Speed with Sandra Bullock) he was challenging himself to break the motorcycle land speed record. He had been approached by an American group who had the bike, but not the rider (it would appear that as the date got closer, the one they had become more aware of their mortality and did a runner). Guy had no such qualms.
Most of the action took place on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Now as child I remember watching Richard Noble attempting the land speed record in Thrust 2. I sometimes thought “I wonder if the ground tastes salty”. Well obviously Guy had thought the same thing and like the lad at school who licks an icy lamppost to see if his tongue will stick (FYI it will), he had a quick taste. “Hmm, tastes salty” he concluded. Yep, the clue really is in the name.
He was towed for his first ride on the bike. I say bike, the only similarities between this bike and normal motorbike were that it had two wheels, one at the front and one at the back, and an engine in between. Well two engines in his case. On the first run (well, pull), Guy discovered that he could only see out of one eye. He suddenly became very English, didn’t want to make a fuss, and said he would be fine as he could always use the other eye. At 400 mph, this man hasn’t got spirit….he’s just insane.
The language barrier between the Lincolnshire man and his American cousins was a problem. I struggle to keep up with Guy’s rapid fire motor mouth and thick accent, but the poor Americans really struggled. When he eventually got going under his own steam he had the bike up to 200 mph on his first run….and was bored. I refer you to my previous statement. He’s insane.
Mind you, this is a man whose only comment when he span out of control was “she crashes well” and on the day of the record itself he was more interested in the size of the BBQs that the caterers had. Alas on this occasion they failed to achieve the land speed record; but he is now the fastest British biker. But I get the impression that in most things Guy does, he isn’t too bothered. I think he was still looking forward to the burger from the massive BBQ he would have after his record attempt. Just don’t get Chris Hoy to make the coffee.