Trevor Taylor: Racing driver who overcame bad luck on the track to forge a successful career
Wednesday 24 November 2010
Trevor Taylor had a reputation for being unlucky, a hard charger whose "number two" Lotus always seemed to be the one that went wrong, or to whom the big accidents always happened. Blessed with the affability of the Yorkshireman, he was a man at peace with himself and his racing achievements – a one-time hell raiser, long since tamed, who loved to talk as much about his children as he did his days in the driving seat.
After he won the Formula 500 championship in 1958, the Lotus chief Colin Chapman paired him with the emergent Jim Clark in Formula Junior. There were times when Taylor beat Clark in straight battles, but it was the Scot who went on to greater success. Taylor always remembered him with fondness, never offended that so many thought of him as "Jim Clark's team-mate".
"Jimmy didn't have to talk loud or behave like that, because he was such a natural driver. He didn't have to work at it like I did. Either you're born with it, or you have to work at it. I couldn't compete with him at all."
Yet Taylor had his moments up on the high wire, distinctive in his yellow overalls and helmet, which bore the white rose of Yorkshire. He and Clark shared the 1960 Formula Junior Championship, and then he won it again in 1961. He started 27 grands prix, the first in an F2 Cooper run by his fatherRaymond's Ace Garage in Rotherham, then for Team Lotus, BRP and Shannon. In non-championship races in 1962 he was second to Clark by a tenth of a second at Kyalami, then beat him by six tenths in Cape Town after Clark spun, came third at Solitude, then shared the winning car with Clark in Mexico. In only his second grand prix in a pukka F1 car, he finished second to Graham Hill in the Netherlands. It would be his best result.
Nothing illustrated his unusual blend of good and bad fortune better than the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in 1962, when he and "Wild" Willy Mairesse collided at high speed. "He lived in his own sort of world, do or die," Taylor said of the Belgian, who committed suicide in 1969. "He was a good driver, but he wanted to be a champion too quick. It was my first visit to Spa. I liked fast circuits, and after Graham Hill led I passed him and led for about four laps. I was four or five seconds in front and I thought, 'If I could just maintain this...
"But then I locked the rear brakes and spun going into the hairpin. Jimmy [Clark] went by me and Mairesse caught me and I couldn't shake him. Once he got behind me in that Ferrari, I was pulling him everywhere round the circuit. It was a bit of a ding-dong. We were coming up from Stavelot, climbing all the way up the hill. The gear-change on the Lotus came out through the back and he came up with the snout of that Ferrari and inadvertently touched the linkage. Pushed me into neutral, and round I went. But he saved my life... He came through on the inside and he knocked my front end, knocked me straight, into a ditch. And he catapulted and knocked a telegraph pole down, and caught fire. Course, he were damaged. I was all right...
"At that particular age" – Taylor was 25 – "you had no fear, really. Not to the extent when you thought you werereally going to chicken out. It wasn't until Formula One, when a lot of things broke on my car – gearboxes jammed and suspension broke – that I started to think, 'I might not see this bloody season out'."
Chapman knew that many of Taylor's accidents were due to car failures, even if he didn't acknowledge it publicly, and they got on well together. Taylor did a lot of the testing, and Chapman taught him about the engineering niceties such as camber angles, toe-in and castors. But Taylor was honest enough with himself to admit that the accidents shook him. "That sort of thing destroys you. Although I liked what I was doing, mentally it started to shake me. I started to change gear a bit sooner, that sort of thing. At the end of the day you think, 'If I have another crash, it might be my last!'"
Chapman offered to rest him for a while, but Taylor wanted to continue. They went their separate ways. Taylor moved on to BRP in 1964, had a brief outing with the uncompetitive Shannon-Climax at the 1966 British Grand Prix, then retired as back problems incurred in his accidents persisted.
But in 1969 the perceptive Brands Hatch boss John Webb brought him back for the inaugural season of Formula 5000, for single seaters with 5-litre American V8 engines. Taylor became a big star again. Driving a Surtees TS5 for Team Elite he won four races and battled hitherto dominant Peter Gethin for the championship. The outcome was only settled in Gethin's favour when they tripped over a backmarker in the finale.
He won in Mondello Park in 1970, but had a huge shunt at Salzburgring, when a front tyre blew at 160mph. A year later, after another tyre failure, he was trapped by the ankle after his Leda crashed at Oulton Park, where in 1969 he had won the famed Tourist Trophy in a Lola T70. "If that thing had gone up I would have left my ankle in there," he observed wryly years later.
In retirement he ran a garage in Rotherham with his brother Michael, who had prepared many of his racing cars, and raced Minis with his younger sister Anita, who was also a very talented driver. Even when he met financial hardship, he endured it with typical stoicism. Without doubt better than his F1 results suggested, he once said in pre-Stig/Top Gear days: "I have this dream that I return to racing all dressed in black. Nobody knows who I am, and I win everything... "
And then he smiled cheerfully. "People say I was unlucky. I was not unlucky. I walked away from a lot of accidents, and lived to tell the tale. And I always loved what I was doing."
Trevor Patrick Taylor, racing driver: born Sheffield 26 December 1936; married firstly Audrey (one son, one daughter); secondly Elizabeth (two sons); died Rotherham 27 September 2010.
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