Henderson relishes status as underdog

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 24 Jun 2017 | Motorsport
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Chris Henderson, of Dunedin, on his way to second place in the first round of the North Island Endurance Series' one-hour race at Taupo Motorsport Park in May. PHOTO: GEOFF RIDDER

We call it the journalist's curse, others call it jinxing. Whatever you call it, writing about a driver before an event can be regarded as tempting fate.

Dunedin's Chris Henderson will race his Toyota AE86 V8 in the second round of the North Island Endurance Series' one-hour race today, and as the runner-up from the first round, he is fair news fodder. Yet, he is slightly reluctant to rate his chances for repeating the feat this weekend at Hampton Downs.

‘‘We seem to have a good car two out of every three races,'' he said.

His ‘‘giant-killing Corolla'', as it has been described in endurance racing circles, is in prime condition. Tweaked and improved by trusted mechanics Phil Winter and Tim Bentley over the past four years, his car can achieve Porsche GT-beating performances on a good day.

‘‘Without those two guys, I wouldn't be going motor racing,'' Henderson said.

In the four years he has been driving the Toyota, Henderson has shaved six seconds a lap from his original times at Ruapuna Raceway.

‘‘We seem to go well and give these big cars a hurry up, but reliability is still our issue,'' Henderson said.

His car has been built up over three years on a AE86 chassis. He makes up for the original's lack of horsepower by dropping in a 6.2-litre alloy V8 from the latest model HSV Commodore. Add some big brakes, big wheels and stacks of aero and you have a car that raises eyebrows wherever it goes.

However, it is the times when it doesn't go that Henderson can recall with clarity.

Last year, he was running second in the South Island Endurance Series (SIES) one-hour category when the motor ‘‘let go'' during practice ahead of the final round.

In 2015, his exit was even more spectacular, with the wheel coming loose mid-race.

The year before that, he broke a driveshaft on the final lap of the final round.

It is enough to make a grown man cry, but Henderson (44) is not one to dwell on the negative.

‘‘I have to focus on the good days.''

He has been driving for 27 years and is well versed in the cruel twists of fate motorsport serves up.

‘‘When you have a good day, you savour it because you know a bad one is just around the corner. We celebrate pretty good, when it's good,'' he said, laughing.

Unlike his main rivals, he doesn't have the benefit of many years of German engineering behind his race car and there are no strict manufacturer replacement schedules for the myriad parts that can break on his home-built charger.

‘I thought about buying a Porsche, but it's just not me. I like being the underdog.''

A live stream of the North Island Endurance Series is available at www.youtube.com/c/Thefastfiles/live