by ANTONY CLAY
IT is slightly bizarre that teenager James Taylor is currently learning to take his driving test.
There’s nothing odd about that, you may think, but the irony is that he spends his weekends driving at fast speeds around race tracks and is one of the country’s brightest young racing talents.
James, who lives in Wath, has gone from karting success to car racing glory and his journey along the highway to acclaim seems assured.
For James and his dad Chris it has been a journey of hard work, grim determination and, ofcourse, the youngster’s burgeoning talent.
James won the 2018 Ginetta Junior Scholarship and has seen his racing exploits caught in TV racing coverage.
One day he is mixing with the great and good of car racing and showing budding sponsors what he can do, on another day he will be in the classroom at Wath Comprehensive School learning sport and business studies.
But racing is his first love and he has seen success at Brands Hatch, Donington and Silverstone, amongst other venues.
And although it is the “dad and lad” team of James and Chris who attend the racing events, mum Denise and sister Charlotte, as well as other family members, are fully behind him in his quest for glory.
James said: “If I had not had the support from my family from quite a young age I would not have got to where I am.
“I have respected everything my parents have done. Nothing I have is taken for granted.
“It’s a family team. They all want to be involved.
“Without karting and car racing I don’t think I would have had the relationship I have had with my dad. We’ve had the highs and the lows. Some people never get the chance to have a relationship like I have had with my dad.”
The whole story started when Chris decided to take eight-year-old James to a kart school in Wakefield. Rather than it being just a bit of fun, James took to karting like a duck to water.
Indeed, he became vice champion of South Yorkshire Kart Club in his first year.
The youngster started attending competitions at clubs further afield. He finished eighth in the 2015 LGM national championships out of around 90 drivers. The year before he had won the Lincolnshire Kart Club cadet champion honour.
And in 2016, James returned to the South Yorkshire Kart Club and won the 2016 championship.
James said: “It was us against the biggest teams. We would turn up with a van and there were all these people with big teams. We learnt it on our own.
“It was just natural. I got in a kart and it felt right. Then all I cared about was racing. Once I had left the track all I was thinking about was what would I be doing next time.”
But eventually James grew up a little too much so his weight and height made karting more problematic. So his attention turned to cars.
“I said we either stop racing and go into senior karting, which I did not want to do, or we could try the Ginetta Scholarship,” said Chris.
“James had never been in a car before.”
Leeds-based Ginetta is a big name in the world of fast cars and gaining a driving scholarship with the firm is a major deal.
James, with his lack of car experience, went into the 2018 scholarship competition very much as an underdog but his consistent skills and times turned the tables in his favour.
It was a three day battle with 64 competitors.
James said: “I did not expect to win. I just thought I would get two to three days in a Ginetta. That was my birthday present at the time.
“But they all seemed quite surprised after I did my first testing.
“It all felt normal. Every lap I did I had the biggest smile. I thought that it was amazing.”
Driver coaches gave James positive feedback and he built up good results overall, made no mistakes and did well in interviews. All this meant he was chosen for a scholarship.
And he feels that the experience he has had with Ginetta has served him well. “A Ginetta is one of the hardest cars to handle. If you can handle it you can handle any other car,” he said.
At first it was a slightly surreal experience for him to be part of the circuit. “I have been watching them on TV since I was eight, never really thinking I would be racing them on that grid,” he admitted.
In his year with Ginetta, James has achieved 18 rookie podium places and competed in 26 races over 10 weekends.
James is currently competing for Richardson Racing which has committed £40,000 to him, if he manages to raise £30,000 himself through sponsorship, by the beginning of next month.
So James is now appealing to budding sponsors across the area, a challenge he relishes despite his young years.
James said: “This sport is five per cent driving, 95 per cent fundraising.
“Just this year I moved from it being my dad’s responsibility to get sponsorship to mine. I quite like going out raising my own sponsorship for my own racing. It’s what I should be doing. No one else is going to do it for me.”
Chris said that he has seen his son mature over the years and become more outgoing because he has had to deal with adults in karting and car racing, learning the rules and standing his ground.
Chris said: “I think you have to grow up quite quickly. I have noticed a difference in him.”
James added: “I remember I used to be really quiet. I struggled talking to my own family and would run away and hide behind people. But in karting you have to mix with everyone, you have to get to explain yourself.”
Now the 17-year-old does TV interviews and races in front of thousands at events across the country.
But, as James pointed out, with a need to raise £100,000 a season to race, he has to be on the ball. “Without the scholarship we could not do it,” he said, particularly since he and his dad are not rolling in money like some of his competitors who can afford teams and drivers to help them get results. James has done well on his own merits.
There are various options for James’ future on the race track. The junior championships this year, for example, could be a springboard for Pro-Am opportunities.
James said: “There are lots of different routes you can go.”
He is also hired by karting teams to teach children the skills, and he spends a lot of time maintaining his fitness through gym work. Being fit gives him an edge in racing because it means he can cope better than others in the hot cars which can reach 40 degrees centigrade during a race.
James said: “The fitness plays a big part in it. It’s paid off. We see some drivers go out fast and then their performance starts to trail off but I have been maintaining performance all the way through.
“We all try and find something through fitness and nutrition.
“There are always little ways to get small chances to progress.”
But at least James believes that his racing skills mean he will be a better driver out on the Queen’s Highway when he passes his driving test.
“I have already had the sensation of speed so I have no need to do it on the road,” he said, adding that he also has more spatial awareness than his peers.
James is a racing success story so far…and the story is certainly not over yet.