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Looks, wealth, charisma, terrible waste



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Peter Revson


Tyrrell-Cosworth 001


Watkins Glen


1971 United States GP (October 3, 1971)


There haven’t been a great many Americans to make an impact in F1, although some very versatile US citizens have done so. Peter Revson was one of the best.

Peter Jeffrey Revlon Revson - “Revvie” or “Revvo” - had everything; looks, charisma, wealth (although his achievements came despite his Revlon heritage), intelligence, education, business acumen and driving talent (summed up by the title of his autobiography, ‘Speed with Style’). He began his racing career in 1960 with the Associated Sports Car Club of Hawaii, taking his Morgan to second place first time out, and winning the next race. In his third event, he was slung out by the club! Next, he scored a seventh place in the Vanderbilt Cup, where his Formula Junior Taraschi-Fiat ran fifth until fuel feed problems took hold.

In 1961, he joined the Sports Car Club of America, running the Morgan in production car races on the East coast. With several second places, some retirements and a Watkins Glen race that he started in reverse gear (!), he was fourth in the championship.

The following year saw his earliest partnership with Teddy Mayer, when the Revson-Mayer Formula Junior team (or Rev Em) ran him (and Mayer’s promising brother Tim) in a Cooper. This was followed by a 1963 move to Europe, when Revson used $12,000 of his business earnings to get him underway. He competed in Formula Junior with a Holbay Ford-engined Cooper, later powering this car with a Cosworth.

He raced at circuits like Monte Carlo, Zolder-Terlaemen (where he led but spun), Enna-Pergusa (where he set a 130mph lap record) and Copenhagen, where he won the FJ GP from pole position. He also made his Formula One début that year, coming ninth in the Gold Cup race at Oulton Park, at the wheel of a Lotus-BRM.

1964 saw his full introduction to Grand Prix racing, when his Revson Racing outfit (the semi-works team under Reg and then Tim Parnell) ran a Lotus 24-BRM for the American. As well as five non-championship events (including Syracuse, where he spun on the first lap, Enna, where he was sixth, and Solitude, where he was a lap down in fourth place) he entered six full GPs. His best performance was at Spa-Francorchamps, where he qualified a creditable tenth. In the race, however, his engine cut out and he was disqualified for receiving a push start. Thirteenth at Monza was his best actual finish.

There was no more F1 action for some time, so 1965 saw a variety of other formulae tackled by Revson. He raced for the works (Ron Harris) Lotus F2 team, where he went off while leading on the last lap of the Eifelrennen, and finished only second. He did win the Monaco F3 race for the same team, in a Lotus 35-Ford, and he also drove in the U.S. autumn sports car series. In this latter category, he took class wins at Seattle and Las Vegas in his Brabham BT8.

In 1966, he mainly concentrated on International sports car racing. He raced a Ford GT40 with Skip Scott, taking five GT class wins - the same number of times as qualifying first in class - and helped Ford to the title. As well as the wins at Spa and Sebring, which were both third placed finishes overall, Revson led the races in Daytona, Monza and Le Mans, but retired from all three.

His 1967 to 1969 seasons were spent on the sports car trail, in both CanAm and TransAm racing. He took part in both a Ford MkIIB and a Lincoln-Mercury Cougar, taking the latter to two ’67 victories. One of these came at Bryar Park, New Hampshire, straight after attending the funeral of his brother Doug. The younger Revson had died in an F3 race in Denmark.

As well as the sports car events, Peter found his way back into single seaters. He was an amazing fifth in the ’69 Indianapolis 500, taking his underpowered Brabham BT25-Repco through from qualifying thirty-third of thirty-three. He returned to the race in 1970, where his McLaren M15 blew up, but would have more success the following season at the Brickyard. His career in CanAm saw him drive the Carl Haas L&M Lola T220 in 1970, but again a better year was to follow. He also scored a second place at Sebring in the Porsche 908 he shared with Steve McQueen.

1971 was Revson’s best year to date. At Indy, he took a brilliant pole in his McLaren M16-Offenhauser (holding the record for eleven years), and backed that up with a strong second in the race. His CanAm season was even better, as he took two seconds, a fourth and a seventh, plus wins at Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen, Elkhart Lake, Brainerd and Laguna Seca. This, from ten events, was plenty enough to give him the title in his McLaren M8F-Chevrolet, despite the loss of the Mid-Ohio race (where he held a dominant lead until a halfshaft joint went). As well as this, there was a single outing for the Tyrrell GP team. His US GP race was over on lap one, however, with oil on the clutch sidelining him.

His all-round performances led to the desired opportunity of another decent crack at F1, this time expanding his existing sports car commitment with the Teddy Mayer-run McLaren team, driving the M19A. He still had time to race elsewhere that year, with USAC IndyCar runs, CanAm again, and races in Roger Penske’s L&M Porsche team. At Indy, he again qualified on the front row, but was out with the gearbox. He also retired at Pocono and Ontario. Meanwhile, his CanAm series with McLaren saw him take three podiums from nine events.

In Formula One, he had a decidedly impressive year, and finished it in fifth overall. Five times from nine races he started from the top four on the grid, this including pole at Mosport Park in Canada. His results included a second in that same race (with an impressive fight back drive after his throttle jammed shut), plus thirds in South Africa, Britain and Austria, fourth at Monza and fifth at Járama. In Belgium, he took seventh after fighting through following a puncture.

The next year of F1 was to go even better, although fifteen more points did not improve his championship standing of fifth overall. Qualifying highlights included three times being second, with four more top six slots. In races, he was second at Kyalami (in the M19C), third at Monza, fourth in Spain and Holland, and fifth in Monaco and the U.S. (all in the impressive M23 McLaren). But the highlights of his year were his two very different Grand Prix victories, at Silverstone and Mosport Park. In the first of these, the field was seriously depleted by an infamous incident prompted by a mistake from young team-mate Jody Scheckter. Nevertheless, in the restarted race Revson went on to beat a list of all the top names. He calmly took the lead from Ronnie Peterson (the fastest driver of that year, in the Lotus 72E) with 28 laps to go, holding off any further attacks from the Swede.

The Canadian Grand Prix was different, and very chaotic. It started in wet conditions, but dried out later on, meaning tyre stops became necessary. As various drivers visited the pitlane, the lead changed hands a number of times. At the point when a collision between Scheckter and François Cévert blocked the track, not all the front runners had stopped. The accident scene called for the first ever usage of a safety car in F1, although it took three laps before the Porsche 914 came out. Whilst it picked up Howden Ganley’s Iso Williams 1R, it was Revson who led at that stage. Or was it? Other viewpoints said that Émerson Fittipaldi (Lotus) or Jackie Oliver (Shadow) were, one or other of them, the actual leader. The final verdict went to Revson who, it was felt, had stopped at the right time to get out ahead of the pace car and make up a lap on the others while it held the wrong car behind it. The result is surely still debated to this day.

After such a great year, however, there were difficulties when it came to arrangements for 1974. The requirements of those who held the sponsorship monies meant that Revson lost his McLaren drive. Yardley, who had backed the team for two years, could not match the incoming Marlboro and Texaco, and was left supporting the third car only. Fittipaldi joined Denny Hulme in the red and white cars, leaving Revson to take up an offer from Shadow.

He was pretty pleased with their existing DN1 car, and set about developing the new DN3 with the intent of taking the team upwards to a long term goal of success. Although the first two GPs saw no actual finishes, the prospects looked good. He had qualified fourth in Argentina and sixth in Brazil, and this was backed up with sixth place in the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch. How well he would have progressed from there can only be wondered at, although team-mate Jean-Pierre Jarier had some good performances, as did Tom Pryce who joined him during the season. These two would take Shadow to (almost) their greatest heights during a competitive 1975.

Revson, however, was lost to the team tragically early. In pre-race testing at Kyalami, a breakage in the suspension caused the car to go off into the Armco, killing him. It was another of those terrible wastes of talent, particularly as it was felt he had still been improving.