Dunedin endurance driver rebuilds championship dream

Crash aftermath . . . Chris Henderson lies on the ground in pain after his Toyota Corolla AE86 rolled in a practice lap at the One Hour South Island Endurance Championship at Teretonga Park in Invercargill in September last year. (inset) The Toyota Corolla AE86 racing. PHOTOS: TERRY MARSHALL

In a series, motoring reporter Shawn McAvinue spends five minutes with Dunedin motorsport enthusiasts discussing their passion for their form of racing.

Five minutes with . . . One Hour South Island Endurance Championship driver Chris Henderson, of Dunedin.

What do you love about the one hour championship?
It’s fun. You can race hammer and tong for an hour and the race is won by seconds, not laps, and it involves a team. We have a good time together and when we win we celebrate. It’s petrolhead heaven.

Tell me about your 1984 Toyota Corolla AE86?
We decided to chuck a 7.2-litre V8 out of a Chevrolet Corvette in one and go racing. We campaigned that for five years and won the One Hour South Island Endurance Championship with it in 2017 and 2018. We were racing against Ferraris and a Porsche 911 GT3s – machinery with a few more mod cons than us. We were looking at doing the threepeat in the championship but it wasn’t to be.

Winning team . . . Chris Henderson (left) relaxes with his 1984 Toyota Corolla AE86 after he and his team (from left) Aaron Carmichael and Phil Winter (absent Tim Bentley) won the One Hour South Island Endurance Championship at Teretonga Park, Invercargill in 2018. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

What happened?
We were at Teretonga Park in Invercargill for a practice before the opening round and I was coming around a corner at about 200kmh and another driver didn’t see me and turned into me, flipping my car on its roof and it barrel-rolled six times.

Did you get hurt?
The crash was pretty aggressive and I was sore all over. I got taken to hospital and had a mild concussion. I was pretty lucky.

How did the AE86 fear?
It was twisted and had a bent chassis and we couldn’t rebuild it. It was so far gone we had to start with something new. A good friend of mine, Phil Winter, bought a 2012 Toyota GT86 in Nelson and we stripped out the AE86 in a couple of days and switched all our running gear over.

At what stage is the fit-out of the GT86?
The motor, diff and gearbox are in it. The roll-cage is built and some body panels have arrived from overseas. It’s not that far from finished but it’s in a workshop at my business, Midway Motors, in Kaikorai Valley Rd, so we can’t work on it during the lockdown because we are a non-essential service. We’ll see how the business goes when we return and see if we can afford to work on it.

When were you hoping to have it finished by?
For the endurance series, which usually starts in September, but I don’t know what the economy is going to do and it’s an expensive sport. I want to pay wages before I pay to race my car so we might put it on the backburner and see what happens.

As a businessman, how are you feeling?
We are entering the unknown. I was in business during the global financial crisis and that was just awful and I’m just hoping this will be a bit shorter. I’m not looking at putting staff off because good staff are hard to get. I’ve applied for the Government’s wage subsidy and it will mean we won’t have to make any hard decisions until the end of May and will be able to get a feel for what is going on.

How are you finding the lockdown?
The first few days I was in shock – I’ve never had my business closed for this long but there is a calmness in the panic. Being a car dealer, if you try and have some time off, your business is still open and you’re always wondering what’s going on and you are never 100% wound down but when no-one else is open, you know you’re not missing out on anything. It gives you a chance to hit reset and recharge the battery.