History Repeats Itself As David Brabham Drives The Brabham BT62 To Victory At Brands Hatch
It’s been almost 50 years since Jack Brabham last won driving a car of his own device and now David’s following in his footstepsby Michael Fira, on
Brabham, a name that needs no introduction among motor racing fans, is firmly back where it belongs, on the track. The company stunned us all in 2018 when it pulled the covers off the vicious BT62, a 700 horsepower monster powered by a 5.4-liter naturally aspirated V-8 bound to squash any Porsche 911 GT3 you might encounter at your local track day event. Last month, the BT62 made its racing debut in the Britcar Endurance Championship with a victory at Brands Hatch. Partaking in the 24 Hours of Le Mans is still the target for the Australian motley crew, although it may not happen until 2022.
David Brabham, Sir Jack Brabham’s youngest son, is an established veteran race car driver in his own right. Despite lacking the trifecta of F1 World Driver’s Titles that make his father an all-time great, David is, however, a two-time ALMS champion and has conquered Le Mans outright a decade ago with Peugeot, although his career actually spans three decades. In the past few years, David decided to hang up the helmet and focus on regaining control of the Brabham brand and make something of it. That ’something’ is, for now, the BT62, and it seems like a cracking way to make an entrance in the world of track-bound hypercars.
We May See The Brabham BT62 At Le Mans Soon
The year before David Brabham won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a German tuner popped out of the doldrums with a dubious-looking widebody for the BMW M3 E92. Back then, the press wrote about the company’s intentions to launch three distinct models, all under the ’Brabham Racing’ umbrella. The Germans managed to throw themselves under the limelight using this illustrious name by virtue of the fact that nobody had bothered to claim it after Brabham fell short off making the F1 grid in 1993.
As luck would have it,
David Brabham became serious about obtaining and retaining the rights to the 'Brabham' name after the German tuner's audacious decision to name its modified Bimmer, 'Brabham BT92'.
A seven-year legal battle ensued that ended in 2014. Quickly thereafter, Brabham assembled a tea of engineers and designers and set about bringing the Brabham name back to the race tracks of the world. The Formula 1 World Championship was his initial target but it was never going to happen with budgets in F1 rivaling the GDP of some small African nations.
Thus, a decision was made around 2015 that Brabham would instead focus its attention on a track-focused supercar, something the original outfit established by Sir Jack and Ron Tauranac had never attempted to do. The result of many sleepless nights and a serious amount of money will begin to roll out of Brabham’s factory in Adelaide next year. It’s been named ’BT62’ to continue where the stillborn BT61 F1 car had left off and it’s available in standard and ’Competition’ trim. The ’standard’ BT62 can be converted to a fiery but legal road car in some countries as we reported earlier this year, but we’re not talking about taking your BT62 to the shop today. Well, unless the shop you buy milk from is located just outside Graham Hill Bend at Brands Hatch Circuit in Kent...
Brands Hatch is one of Britain’s best-known road courses as a former host of the British Grand Prix and, this November, Brabham came full circle on that little roller-coaster of a track.
You see, back in 1966, 'Black' Jack Brabham won the British Grand Prix held at Brands Hatch driving a car bearing his own name, the Brabham-Repco BT19.
The Australian won the Driver’s title for the third and final time that year too and, 53 years later, son David repeated the feat of winning in a Brabham at Brands Hatch, admittedly not in a sanctioned F1 race and on the ’Indy’ layout not the full GP course.
But hey, when is the last time a guy driving a car with his name on the hood won a race? It barely ever happens. We only tend to remember Jean Rondeau’s upset victory at Le Mans in 1980 driving his Rondeau M379 and, before that, it’s all about Bruce McLaren and Jack Brabham. It’d be like if Jim Glickenhaus suddenly strapped on a helmet, jumped in an SCG and won with it, but you’ll never see it happen. Nor will you see Horacio Pagani park a Pagani in victory lane, nor Christian von Koenigsegg do that after working hard behind the wheel of a race-prepped Jesko. This is why Brabham’s win matters and it matters a whole lot, besides the fact that it was on the car’s debut and in the night and in appalling conditions.
How Was the BT62 Prepared for Brands Hatch?
To prepare for the Brands Hatch run, Brabham had to fiddle with the BT62 a bit first.
The $1.5 million ’Ultimate Track Car’, as the standard version is known, could apparently use a visit to the gym before racing. As a result of the visit, Brabham removed most sound-deadening material from the cabin as well as the passenger’s seat and spares package. They’re all now listed under the ’Options’ box. On top of that, the BT62 was equipped with racing ABS, adjustable traction control, and carbon fiber brakes as well as the typical team radio system.
Brabham then decided to offer its race-prepped BT62 for sale, dubbed ’BT62 Competition’, is no surprise given the standard ’Ultimate Track Car’ is achingly expensive and people weren’t really queuing to buy one as Brabham might’ve expected.
The Competition version is cheaper at $983,348 and can also be converted to either 'Ultimate Track Car' or road-legal spec.
It’s not only the result of Brabham’s desire to race the BT62 but also as a way to cater to those aspiring Brabham owners that complained the car, in track day trim, wasn’t actually ready to be entered in an actual racing series such as the Britcar Endurance Championship. The thing you must remember, however, is that Brabham won’t build more than 70 BT62s, regardless of the specification chosen by each customer.
The work put in by the Australian manufacturer to create the BT62 Competition doesn’t translate into some shiny homologation papers from the FIA, but you can race it in championships that allow for experimental GT cars to compete. Britcar offered Brabham a wildcard invite to its end-of-the-season ’Into The Night’ races at Brands Hatch, and that’s how the BT62 made it onto the grid. Right now, it’s likely at least one BT62 will be on the grid for the entirety of the 2020 season. In theory, we could also see the car compete in Germany’s Nurburgring Endurance Series (NES, formerly the VLN) which features the SPX class for unhomologated GT cars as the Glickenhaus 003C.
How the Brabham BT62 Won On Its Debut
First and foremost, it's important to point out that the BT62 Competition shares all of its greasy parts with the track day version.
The engine is the same Brabham-developed, naturally aspirated 5.4-liter, quad-cam, 32-valve V-8 developing 700 horsepower at 7,400 rpm and 492 pound-feet of torque at 6,200 rpm. The humongous amounts of power reach the rear wheels via a six-speed Holinger sequential transmission.
We first heard Brabham will actually debut the BT62 in competition before the year’s end back in August when, shortly after striking a deal with tire manufacturer Goodyear, Brabham also announced it will race its maiden creation. As each of the two races scheduled for November 9-10 were two-hour endurance events, Brabham went with a mix of exuberance and experience in the Pro-Am duo of Brabham Sporting Director David Brabham and Will Powell, one of the first alumni of the Brabham Automotive Driver Development Program (DDP) and someone who’s driven GT cars and prototypes before.
With the BT62’s extreme aero package generating up to 2,645 pounds of downforce at speed, it was decided that the car would run with added ballast as well as with a limiter allowing it to use only 60% of its total output - meaning it could only put down about 420 horsepower. In other words, Brabham and Powell had to make do with about as much power as a GT4 car produces or about 80 ponies down on a proper, off-the-shelf, GT3 car. In spite of the power deficit, Britcar announced the car is, in this spec, ready to compete in the ’GTO’ class, the only one that’s open to GT3-spec cars too. So, in other words,
the BT62 Competition ran in its debut race in GT3 specification, similar to what it would happen if it were to race in the NES or the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring (we hope that will happen!).
"I always wondered what my father must have felt when he first raced a Brabham on track and I am now about to go through that same emotion," said Brabham when the news broke out that he’ll be back in the cockpit of a race car and not just any race car but one bearing his last name. Brabham had last raced in the top ranks back in 2015 when he was one of Extreme Speed Motorsport’s drivers for the Six Hours of Silverstone, the opening round of that year’s FIA WEC season.
The ’Into The Night’ double-header was held on the short course at Brands Hatch, namely the ’Indy’ layout which is actually the track’s original layout before a few new bits were added to lengthen it in order to make it an appropriate host of a Formula 1 Grand Prix in the ’60s. The two races would both start in the evening and run their course entirely under the lights. They’d feature a mandatory stop for changing drivers and refueling too.
The Brabham tea drew first blood in qualifying when a late decision by David Brabham to switch to slick tires during the 30-minute session saw the blue No. 5 car post a blistering 00:46.674 lap, a comfortable 1.798 seconds clear from his closest rival, Ollie Hancock in the No. 18 Moss Motorsport BMW 1M E82. The 1M Bimmer, while lacking the downforce of the Brabham, made it up on the start/finish straight thanks to its devilish engine: the 5.0-liter BMW S65 V-10. Tim Gray in the VR Motorsport Praga R1T was third, albeit almost four seconds off the pace.
It was Will Powell who started the race for Team Brabham, David’s protegee keeping the BT62 at the sharp end of the field as the lights on the gantry switched from red to green to signal the start of the first night race. Despite the extra downforce, Powell was unable to shake Hancock off his tail, the BMW driver never more than three seconds in arrears in the opening few laps. In fact, the two cars were closer than ever when the safety car came out at the base of Paddock Hill Bend to pick up Powell while the marshals recovered a stricken Seat, merely 10 minutes in.
After the restart, Powell was eventually hunted down by Hancock who made his move on lap 19 through Druids, proving his prowess in the wet. Thereafter, the Moss Motorsport driver tried hopelessly to open up a gap while Powell drove within himself to stay on the tail of his main rival - all of this in conditions that were only going to get worse as the race progressed.
By the time the BT62 had pitted and the driver exchange had been made, the car had drooped down to third, demoted by both the No. 18 BMW and Lucky Khera who was driving Simon Green’s Ferrari 488 Challenge on his own and had yet to make his mandatory stop.
Brabham slowly but surely began to eek his way forwards, finally catching up and passing Mike Moss with 20 minutes left on the clock.
By then, however, the headlights and wipers were fighting hard to keep up with the spray that was making life miserable for the drivers.
What is more, Brabham’s windshield, lacking electrical heating, started fogging up badly, something that slowed Powell’s progress too. "And once we got going for the last 10 minutes [of the first stint] there was just a little window at the bottom of the screen; I was just hanging on for dear life," said Powell after the race. Brabham became the leader by virtue of Khera finally delving into the pits for his mandatory stop. It happened with one single minute to spare or, in other words, a nice, easy victory lap for David.
"With three or four laps to go I could feel myself starting to feel the emotion of it, and I was like, ‘No, no, focus!’ because the conditions were treacherous – you didn’t want to make any sort of mistake - and I didn’t want to throw that win away by pre-empting things in my head and thinking about it," said Brabham to MotorSport Magazine.
The No. 5 BT62 crossed the line to win the first race of the weekend marking "a dream start for the car and for the group," in Brabham's own (very emotional) words.
The team, backed at the track by Martin Short’s Rollcentre Racing outfit that provided much-needed assistance, headed into Sunday’s second two-hour race brimming with confidence. It wasn’t out of place as the BT62, now with ample amounts of front-end grip after some tender touches by Rollcentre’s mechanics who adjusted the setup, was in a league of its own. There were no other proper GT3 cars out there at Brands Hatch for the season finale, only some Bimmers on steroids, the lone Tim Gray-driven Praga and a pair of Ferrari 488 Challenge cars.
But a repeat victory wasn’t on the cards for the nascent Brabham operation. While Will Powell avoided the turn 2 melee by virtue of being at the head of the field, he could not dodge an alternator problem that saw him crawl down pitlane as the safety car was out to get everyone back in order after the chaos of lap 1. Powell did rejoin a short while later but the team decided to curtail the running and called him back in to park the car for good in an effort to not cause extra damage to the electrical system.
Brabham didn’t bury his face in his hands after the unceremonious mechanical DNF of race 2, acknowledging the likelihood of such a thing happening on the car’s debut weekend. "When you start up a company like this, a lot of people fail and you can see why, too. It’s a challenge," Brabham said, adding on a more upbeat tone that "we’ve got cars in production, being delivered in Q1 next year, and we can be pleased with where we are."
Indeed, a number of Competition-spec BT62s will be ready by February and one of them will tackle the full Britcar season,
potentially in the hands of Rollcentre that competed in selected events this year with both its ABBA-sponsored Mercedes-AMG GT GT3 and its venerable BMW M3 E46 GTR.
The big takeaway from Brabham’s first victory is that aspirational stories aren’t bound to the history books and fictional works. Stuff like this can still happen and Brabham Automotive is such an example. While we don’t yet know what will happen, it’s clear that the success at Brands Hatch bolstered Brabham’s trust in his men and his car and we’re sure whatever comes out next through the gates of the Adelaide factory (more models will emerge in the future, we hear), it’s going to rock us to our core again.
As Ross Wylie, British GT regular, put it, "[the BT62] is the cream of the cream. It’s a car you can jump in at any level and it gives you the confidence to drive fast, there’s no nasty surprises, he said before pointing out that "it’s got the wow factor, it looks and sounds intimidating. When you get in the car and get behind the wheel you realize how drivable is it considering how much it weighs and how much power it produces. It’s a raw race car, but it’s one of the most compliant cars I’ve ever driven."
What does the Future Hold for Brabham?
In short, we just don’t know. Originally, Brabham announced its firm intention to join the GTE-Pro class in time for the 2021/22 season. But that was back in January and, since then, a lot has changed. The plans to modify the BT62 in order to make it compliant with FIA GTE class rules were ditched and, instead, Brabham suggested a new model will arrive and it will be that model that will be the base for its race car.
Then we heard, through the mouth of Commercial Director Dan Marks, that the BT62 could race at Le Mans after all, but as a ’Hypercar’ battling for outright wins. "We’re waiting to see what the final regulations are. There will need to be work to [the BT62[ to marry it to the regulations, but if we were going to do something with this it sounds like it would be more aligned to ‘Hypercar’," he added talking to DailySportsCar.com.
Just the other day, however, Brabham’s plans to hypercar-ize the BT62 took a hit when the ACO announced no privateers are allowed to build/race a hypercar in the new-look top class of the FIA WEC. It leaves Brabham and Glickenhaus, that has actually committed to a program and is currently building its contender, in a tricky situation. Is Glickenhaus an OEM? What about Brabham? Both are making road-legal cars but they can’t match the output of Aston Martin even, let alone Peugeot or Toyota. In other words, the fate of Brabham as a company in motorsports could well be decided by the rule-makers and that’s something we’d hate to see happen.
At the end of the day, however, David Brabham is adamant that November’s outing at Brands is merely "the first step of many steps in our goal to win Le Mans." Let’s hope they pull through! It’d be a great story coming from (now) the only real Australian automaker left!