At the 2021 LeJog finish line a couple emerged from their car and embraced in a deep kiss, they didn’t know it for sure yet, but the Volvo they were driving had carried them to a gold medal finish, the highest accolade achievable for a LeJog crew and no mean feat. The driver, Amy Henchoz, would also become only the second person, over 26 events and thousands of entries, to win golds as a driver and a navigator and whilst not the first to do this, she is certainly the first lady. An achievement on a grand scale, augmented by the fact that Amy is still the right side of 25 years of age.
I caught up with Amy on a crisp and clear January day, close to her home in the heart of Nidderdale in North Yorkshire. We’ve met in Stainburn forest for an afternoon of mountain biking on the purpose-built trails, part of the myriad of cycling opportunities in the area, which Amy takes full advantage of with partner Niall. She tells me she’s feeling a bit tired after some night riding the previous evening, so I might have half a chance of keeping up, it would become apparent quite quickly though, that this wouldn’t be much of a handicap.
The forest tracks seem like they are a second home for Amy, and as she picks a route through the rocks and boulders of the fast but brutal downhill sections of our ride, on a bicycle not really designed for the hard hits of this place, it becomes clear as to why she has some skill behind the wheel. The ability to think ahead and plot a route is clear, as well as the fitness and strength, indeed no sooner have we reached the end of a pinball descent then she is straight up and at the equally steep and rocky climb, chatting the whole way up as I languish behind. Whilst I barely have the energy to negotiate tight corners between trees or the momentum to scale the boulders, my host is talking up a storm and skipping up the technical trails with ease.
It is during one of these one way conversations as we ascend that she tells me that cycling hasn’t been a sport for her for that long, indeed it was Niall that introduced her to the excitement of throwing yourself down tracks many would struggle to walk down, but despite her infancy in this game she has won races and is likely racing in the national cyclo-cross championship this year, a form of cycling that mixes the difficulty and adrenaline of mountain biking with the endurance of road riding, on a bicycle that tries to find a happy medium between the two.
So, was an ability on a bicycle an accident or is there a secret history of extreme sport endeavour? “Well, I grew up rock climbing” she says, nonchalantly. I apply the brakes and stop my bike. With a shake of my head and a wry smile I am done. Time to go for some much-needed refreshment before I end up in an ambulance. Continuing our conversation in a safer environment I find myself on the end of an explanation about how it’s sometimes safer to climb without ropes, “there’s less chance of pulling your partner off the cliff if you fall then”, the logic seems chopped to me, but Amy has been climbing since she was 7 and has scaled various faces in the Alps, so I’ll defer to her knowledge.
It wasn’t only a passion for climbing that began in childhood, but the connection with motorsport as well, as she recalls marshalling on night rallies with father Rob, who with Amy’s mother Emma run’s Amazon Cars, a workshop specialising in Volvo’s of the 60’s and 70’s. The apple rarely falls too far from the tree, and it only requires a brief scan of Rob and Emma’s CV’s to understood how the chromosomal soup came together to form Amy. Rob, formerly an electrical engineer with the Navy and then time spent on marine survey vessels, navigates in historic cars and as well as the four wheeled pursuits enjoys his motorcycles, Emma on the other hand is a driver and worked at one time as an ocean-going geologist. So that’s both two and four wheels covered, and rallying as both a driver and a navigator, all that’s missing from Amy’s copy book is the sea.
Well, actually, that isn’t the case, as it turns out Amy, after graduating from Liverpool University has worked as an ocean-going Geo-Phys scientist, a job that has taken her all around the world. “I worked on non-invasive surveys trying to find oil” she tells me and describes ships that would tow vast rigs of apparatus through the oceans, firing compressed air at high velocity into the ocean bed and mapping the makeup of the sea floor with the returning signals. It’s fascinating stuff but is a world that Amy has recently turned her back on. “You could be away on these ships for 12 weeks at a time and called away at any moment. It’s not conducive to a well-planned life.”
So, what next? Perhaps a move into the family business? Well, not exactly as after spending her childhood in Suffolk her home is now in Yorkshire with Niall. But whilst not keen on a career with Volvo’s she is intent on working with her hands, “I prefer being creative [to the science]” she tells me, “I enjoy creating dresses from patterns, and making patterns, as well as other sewing. I’ve done some work in it before and there are plenty of wedding boutiques in Harrogate, so there’s potentially an opportunity to become a wedding dress maker.” With an academic background and her love of extreme sports the answer takes me by surprise somewhat, but then that is perhaps to underestimate Amy. After all that I have seen I should have expected the unexpected and for someone so clearly multi-faceted, to be considering a move into a creative industry.
In the car though it is the maps that she prefers being hands on with, despite a clear talent for driving, but whichever seat she chooses to occupy in the world of classic rallying, and indeed motorsport, being a young woman is possibly as unusual as being able to switch successfully between seats. We discuss the fact and Amy refuses to be drawn on whether she is or isn’t some sort of role model, instead shifting the focus onto the fact that perhaps there ought to be more of a move to involve young people in general in a sport that often see’s involvement from those at a different time of life, and both her and Niall offer examples of the success of ideas elsewhere that could be applicable to those competing under the HERO-ERA umbrella.
It’s progressive ideas like these, coupled with success that sometimes unwittingly lead people to become a beacon of something bigger. One thing is for certain, at such a tender age there is potentially a lot of success to come, and with her clear talents Amy, and the few others in the sport like her, may yet find themselves the inspiration for other young and underrepresented groups in motorsport, at a time when there are already the undercurrents of a seismic shift in the way that women are seen in sport. The extent to which that mantle is seized is of course up to Amy, whilst the rest of us try and keep up!