Sir Jack Brabham (1926 - 2014)

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Sir Jack Brabham (1926 - 2014)
Sir Jack Brabham
Sir John Arthur "Jack" Brabham, AO, OBE (born April 2, 1926) is Australia's best known and most successful race export, and remains the only Australian driver to take out three Formula One championships, in 1959, 1960 and 1966. He was a founder of the Brabham racing team and race car constructor that bore his name.

Brabham's interest in cars went back to his childhood where, at age 12, he learned to drive the family car and the trucks of his father’s grocery business. Brabham's time at technidal college demonstrated his preference for basic metalwork, carpentry and technical drawing.

At age 15 he left school to work, combining a job at a local garage with an evening course in mechanical engineering. Brabham soon branched out into his own business selling motorbikes, which he bought and repaired for sale using his parents back veranda as his workshop.

Towards the end of the Second World War the 17-year-old Brabham was called up into the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Although keen on becoming a pilot, he was trained as a flight mechanic, based at RAF Williamtown where he worked on maintaining Bristol Beaufighters until the end of the war. Upon demobilisation in 1946 Brabham started a small service, repair and machining business in a workshop built by his uncle on a plot of land behind his grandfather’s house.

Racing Midgets

Brabham started racing after an American friend, Johnny Schonberg, persuaded him to watch a midget car race. Midget racing was a category for small open-wheel cars racing on dirt ovals. It was popular in Australia, attracting crowds of up to 40,000. Brabham records that he was not taken with the idea of driving, being convinced that the drivers “were all lunatics” but he agreed to build a car with Schonberg.

At first Schonberg drove the homemade device, powered by a modified JAP motorcycle engine built by Brabham in his workshop. In 1948, Schonberg's wife persuaded him to stop racing and on his suggestion Brabham took over. He almost immediately found that he had a knack for the sport, winning on his third night’s racing. Brabham has since said that it was “terrific driver training. You had to have quick reflexes: in effect you lived—or possibly died—on them.” Due to the time required to prepare the car, the sport also became his living. Brabham won the 1948 Australian Speedway Championship, the 1949 Australian and South Australian Speedcar championships, and the 1950-1951 Australian championship with the car.

Road Racing And The Cooper Car Company

After successfully running the midget at some hillclimbing events in 1951, Brabham became interested in road racing. He bought and modified a series of racing cars from the Cooper Car Company, a prolific British constructor, and from 1953 concentrated on this form of racing, in which drivers compete on closed tarmac circuits. Supported by his father and by the Redex fuel additive company, Brabham competed in Australia and New Zealand until early 1955. His commercial approach, which included the painting of RedeX Special on the side of his car, did not go down well with the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS), which promptly banned such obvious advertisements.

After the 1955 New Zealand Grand Prix Brabham was persuaded by Dean Delamont, competitions manager of the Royal Automobile Club in the United Kingdom, to try a season of racing in Europe, then the international centre of road racing. On arriving in Europe in early 1955, Brabham based himself in the UK, where he raced his own Cooper in national events. However, as motorsport author Mike Lawrence described it, he soon "seemed to merge into Cooper Cars, turning up and turning his hand to anything and doing it well." His first drive for the Cooper works team was reportedly the transporter used to take their cars to the track. Brabham built a Cooper Bobtail mid-engined sportscar at the factory, fitted with a Bristol engine and intended for Formula One, the top category of single seater racing.

Jack Brabham - Australia's First World Champion...

1955 Grand Prix Debut

Brabham made his Grand Prix debut driving the car at the 1955 British Grand Prix. It was underpowered, having an engine capacity half a litre less than the 2.5-litre maximum, and Brabham did not finish the race. Brabham later recollected that he started working at Cooper on a daily basis from the mid point of the 1955 season, although he was not paid.

Later in the year Brabham, again driving the Bobtail, tussled with Stirling Moss in a 2.5-litre Maserati 250F for third place in a non-championship Formula One race at Snetterton. Although Moss finished ahead, Brabham realised the race was a turning point, proving that he could compete at this level. As a result he returned the UK the following year, having used the Bobtail to win the 1955 Australian Grand Prix.

Using the proceeds from the sale of the Bobtail, Brabham bought his own 250F in 1956. The 250F was a popular and competitive model, but Brabham campaigned it only briefly and unsuccessfully before abandoning it. Brabham's 1956 season was saved by drives for Cooper in sports cars and Formula Two, the junior category to Formula One, where the mid-engined cars had been having increasing success.

Having the motor behind the driver has the advantage that the weight is concentrated on the powered rear wheels for more traction. In 1957, he drove the first mid-engined Cooper-Climax at the Monaco Grand Prix. He was running third before a component broke. Brabham pushed the car to the line to finish sixth, just outside the points.

1959 World Championship Win

In 1959, Brabham won the World Championship with a Coventry Climax engined Cooper. Despite their lead in putting the engine behind the driver, the Coopers and their Chief Designer Owen Maddock were resistant to developing their cars. Brabham pushed for further advances, and played a significant role in developing Cooper's highly successful 1960 T53 ‘lowline’ car. Brabham won the championship again in 1960 driving the T53. He then took the Championship-winning Cooper to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a test following the 1960 season, then entered the famous Indianapolis 500-mile race in a modified version of the Formula One car in 1961. The "funny" little car from Europe was mocked by the other teams, but it ran as high as third although ultimately finishing ninth. The Indianapolis establishment gradually realized the writing was on the wall as Brabham and his team principal John Cooper had shown that the days of front-engined roadsters were numbered.

Ironically, Cooper was not as competitive this year, as the 1.5 litre engine rules were introduced and the famous Shark Nose Ferrari dominated. Despite his success with Cooper, Brabham was sure he could do better, and in late 1959 he asked his friend Ron Tauranac to come to the UK and work with him, initially producing upgrade kits for Sunbeam Rapier and Triumph Herald road cars at his car dealership, Jack Brabham Motors, but with the long-term aim of designing racing cars. To meet that aim, Brabham and Tauranac set up Motor Racing Developments Ltd. (MRD), which initially produced customer racing cars, while Brabham himself continued to race for Cooper.

The Competition Catches Up With The Mid-Engined Design

By the 1961 Formula One season, the Lotus and Ferrari teams had developed the mid-engined approach further than Cooper, where Brabham had a poor season, scoring only four points. Having run his own private Coopers in non-championship events during 1961, Brabham left the company in 1962 to drive for his own team: the Brabham Racing Organisation, using cars built by Motor Racing Developments. A newly introduced engine limit in Formula One of 1500 cc did not suit Brabham and he did not win a single race with a 1500 cc car. His team suffered poor reliability during this period, attributed by some commentators to Brabham's notorious thrift. Referring to Brabham's unwillingness to spend money, his team mate Gurney said that "Jack was tighter than a bull's ass in fly season". During this period, Brabham appeared to be winding down his involvement in driving, with Gurney taking the lead driver role. Brabham stood down for other drivers several times.

In 1966, a new 3-litre formula was created for Formula One. The new engines under development by other suppliers all had at least 12 cylinders and proved difficult to develop, being heavy and initially unreliable. Brabham took a different approach to the problem of obtaining a suitable engine: he persuaded Australian engineering company Repco to develop a new 3-litre eight cylinder engine for him. Repco had no experience in designing complete engines. Brabham had identified a supply of suitable engine blocks obtained from Oldsmobile aluminium alloy 215 V8 engine and persuaded the company that an engine could be designed around the block, largely using existing components. Brabham and Repco were aware that the engine would not compete in terms of outright power, but felt that a lightweight, reliable engine could achieve good championship results while other teams were still making their new designs reliable.

The combination of the Repco engine and the Brabham BT19 chassis designed by Tauranac worked. At the French Grand Prix at Reims-Gueux, Jack Brabham became the first man to win a Formula One world championship race in a car of his own construction. Only his two former team mates, Bruce McLaren and Dan Gurney, have since matched this achievement. It was the first in a run of four straight wins for the Australian veteran. Brabham in a Brabham-Repco won the championship again and became the only driver to win the Formula One World Championship in a car that carried his own name.

Brabham Partners With Honda

The season also saw the fruition of Brabham's relationship with Japanese engine manufacturer Honda in Formula Two. After a generally unsuccessful season in 1965, Honda revised their 1-litre engine completely. Brabham won ten of the year's 16 European Formula Two races in his Brabham-Honda. There was no European Formula Two championship that year, but Brabham won the Trophées de France, a championship consisting of six of the French Formula Two races. In 1967, the Formula One title went to Brabham's teammate Denny Hulme. Hulme had better reliability through the year, possibly due to Jack Brabham's desire to try new parts first.

Brabham BT44B/2
Carlos Pace won the 1975 Brazilian Grand Prix in the Martini-backed BT44B/2, actually the rebuilt BT44/3.
Brabham raced alongside his team mate Jochen Rindt during the 1968 season. Partway through the 1969 season, Brabham suffered serious injuries to his foot in a testing accident. He returned to racing before the end of the year, but promised his wife that he would retire after the season finished and sold his share of the team to Tauranac.

Finding no top drivers available Brabham decided to race for one more year. He began auspiciously, winning the first race of season, the South African Grand Prix, and then led the third race, the Grand Prix of Monaco until the very last turn of the last lap.

Brabham was about to hold off the onrushing Jochen Rindt (the eventual 1970 F1 champion) when his front wheels locked in a skid on the sharp right turn only yards from the finish and he ended up second.

After the 13th and final race of the season, the Mexican Grand Prix, Brabham did retire. He had tied Jackie Stewart for fifth in the points standings in the season he drove at the age of 44.

Selling Motor Racing Developments to Bernie Ecclestone

Prior to returning home to Australia Brabham sold his firm, Motor Racing Developments, to Bernard (Bernie) Ecclestone, the enthusiastic businesssman from South East London, who had already been involved in motor racing for many years. Brabham's designer and partner, Ron Tauranac, left the newly-owned MRD firm and the young South American Gordon Murray took over the design work.

Ecclestone retained the name Brabham for the new cars from MRD and they upheld the good name of the original owner in a very impressive manner. Gordon Murray's first design for the newly-owned firm was the BT42 series, continuing the designation and number sequence started by Brabham and Tauranac, the BT part of the model number. Murray was the third series of Formula One designs and the histories of the cars are as follows:

The first Gordon Murray-designed Brabham. Appeared at the Race of Champions in 1973 driven by John Watson. It crashed and was written-off.
First appeared at Spanish GP 1973 for factory team. Retained as team car for rest of season. Used by John Watson driving for the Hexagon of Highgate team in 1974. Sold to Richard. Oaten for lan Ashley to drive.
First appeared at Spanish GP 1973 for factory team. Retained as team car for rest of season. Used by factory in 1974 on Rent-a-Car basis, driven by Pilette, Lombardi and Pace. Retained by factory as a Show Car.
Factory-supported car for Ceramica Pagnossin team driven by Andrea de Adamich. Written off in multi-car accident in British GP at Silverstone in 1973
First appeared British GP 1973 for factory team. Retained as team car for rest of season. Sold to Italo-Swiss Scuderia Finotto in 1974.
First appeared Austrian GP 1973 for factory team, completed with salvageable parts from BT42/4. Retained as team car for rest of season. Sold to Italo-Swiss Scuderia Finotto in 1974.
First appeared at Argentine GP 1974 for CarIos Reutemann. Retained as team car for rest of season. Rebuilt into BT44B/3 for 1975.
First appeared at Argentine GP 1974 for Richard Robarts. Retained as team car for rest of season.
First appeared at Race of Chammpions 1974 for factory team. Retained as team car for rest of season. Rebuilt into BT44B/2 for 1975.
First appeared at German GP 1974 for John Watson to drive for Hexagon of Highgate team. Reebuilt into BT44B/4 for works team.
New car for Argentine GP 1975 for factory team backed by Martini.
1975 team car built from BT44/3.
1975 team car built from BT44/1.
1975 team car built from BT44/4.

Brabham's 1976 Assault on the Mount was very short lived ...

Returning To Australia, Brabham's Attention Turn's To Mount Panorama

Brabham then made a complete break from racing and returned to Australia. In 1976 Brabham competed at Bathurst in a Holden Torana with Stirling Moss. Although the car was crash-damaged on the starting grid, it was repaired, and survives as a museumpiece to this day.

It was obviously a moment better forgotten, although his fortunes would change in the 1978 Hardie Ferodo 1000 when he would finish 6th with Brian Muir in their Torana A9X.

In 1998, Sir Jack Brabham returned to the old Nürburgring to race a VW New Beetle 1.8T in the 6 Hours with Ross Palmer and Melinda Price, scoring the fastest lap among the 3 drivers with over 134 km/h in average. Brabham said he returned to the Ring for the first time since 1970, and was surprised about the changes in safety - and the sunshine.
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