Gary Brabham

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Last updated: 10-May-2001


Biography

Before Formula One Formula One After Formula One

Before F1
1983

Initially content to farm, soon heads to Europe to race FFord

Son of the great Sir Jack Brabham, Gary Brabham was born in Wimbledon in London, and early on he had no plans to follow in his father's footsteps. He was content to be a farmer in Wagga Wagga, in rural New South Wales, Australia. But he soon discovered that he had inherited the racing bug, and made his racing debut in 1982 in Formula Fords, finishing his first race at Calder in 3rd, and breaking the Sandown FFord lap record in a nine-year old car!

Later that year, he was chosen to go to Europe for 1983. Despite pathetic support from the Australian public, he raced in Formula Ford 2000 in England in 1983 for Neil Trundle Racing in a Reynard SF83, alongside the likes of Mauricio Gugelmin and JJ Lehto. Brabham came 11th overall with a highest placing of 5th.

1984

Team politics see Gary treated badly in fovour of Bailey

In 1984, he remained in the series with the unfortunately named Penistone Racing team (yes, that was their actual name, folks) as team mate to Julian Bailey in Reynard SF84s, outpacing the future Tyrrell driver until team orders kicked in to ensure than the local was not outperformed. Still, Brabham was not disgraced, and was 6th overall.

In fact, such was the bias in favour of his team-mate (as demanded by sponsors BP), that Brabham used to inherit all the broken parts from accident-prone Bailey's car. In one instance, at Snetterton, Bailey crashed in qualifying, and the team put the broken rocker onto Brabham's car. Yet in the race, Gary still led his team-mate until the inevitable happened and the rocker dislodged.


After Panasonic abandoned Brabham to sponsor the Seoul Olympics, NEC stepped in. And what an investment it would prove, with Brabham storming home late in the 1988 British F3 season to run second to JJ Lehto.
After Panasonic abandoned Brabham to sponsor the Seoul Olympics, NEC stepped in. And what an investment it would prove, with Brabham storming home late in the 1988 British F3 season to run second to JJ Lehto.

1984-85

Resorts to British truck racing for a crust; partners Divina Galica

Trying his hand at other categories throughout 1984, he raced sports cars in the Thundersports Series (although he actually made his debut in this category in 1983, Hatch in a March 83S Ford shared with Alo Lawler at Brands Hatch), and took his maiden victory at Snetterton, driving a Tiga TS84 Ford, partnering Tim Lee-Davey. He also drove an 800hp Porsche 911 rally car in the British Rally Cross Grand Prix, and, returning to FF2000, came 4th in the BBC Grandstand Series.

With these results, Brabham thought he had a top-flight FF2000 drive lined up for 1985, and returned to Australia for Christmas. How wrong he was. The deal fell though, and 1985 was a disaster. He had no drive, even resorting to truck racing, of all things, in a 7.5 tonne Leyland Roadtrain at the British Truck GP at Brands Hatch, just to get onto the track. A slight reprieve came through the Thundersports series, where he landed a drive for the TechSpeed Racing team in a two-litre Shrike P15 Ford alongside ex-F1 female racer Divina Galica, recording five 2nd places.

1986-87

Threatens Johnny Herbert in British F3 until money runs out

Still, in 1986 his father got a team together, and under the banner of Jack Brabham Racing, Gary did 9 out of 18 British F3 rounds in a Ralt/VW RT30, and still managed some decent results, such as 2nd at Silverstone, enough for 5th in the championship with 22 points, just ahead of Bailey. Brabham was awarded the Cellnet Motor Racing Award for best up and coming British and Commonwealth driver.

Jack Brabham Racing then had Panasonic backing for 15 out of 19 rounds in 1987, and in a Ralt RT31, again with a VW engine, Brabham won two races at Silverstone and Donington, coming 6th overall with 37 points. Johnny Herbert won the title, from Bertrand Gachot, Martin Donnelly, Thomas Danielsson and Damon Hill. However, Brabham was only 2 points behind Herbert when his budget tragically ran out, so the fact that he still beat the likes of Perry McCarthy, Roland Ratzenberger, Mark Blundell and Jean-Denis Deletraz was scant consolation.


Gary Brabham's first taste of an F1 car, in Thierry Boutsen's Benetton in December 1988 at Jerez.
Gary Brabham's first taste of an F1 car, in Thierry Boutsen's Benetton in December 1988 at Jerez.

1987-88

Shows his class at Bathurst, dicing with Brock; takes 2nd in British F3

Before 1987 was out, though, Brabham showed his versatility by driving a Group A Toyota Supra rally car at the British Rallysprint round at Brands Hatch, coming a marvellous 3rd. He then returned briefly to Australia, and in the Bathurst 1000, sharing a works BMW M3 with Juan Manuel Fangio II, was up to 5th before Fangio glanced a stricken car in the rain. But to show his speed, late in the race Gary had a great dice with eventual winner Peter Brock, even passing the Aussie legend. Before he went back to Europe, he also won one race in Australian Formula Atlantic.

For the 1988 British F3 championship, Brabham joined Bowman Racing to race a Ralt/VW RT32, and although Lehto won on 113 points, the Aussie stormed home late in the season, winning 4 races to finish 2nd on 81, ahead of Hill, Donnelly, and Eddie Irvine. On his way he also won the Scottish Superprix and the Oulton Park Gold Cup, beating Hill to the honour of emulating their fathers, both of whom had won the trophy.

1988-89

Chiesa steals his F3000 drive; Brabham Blitzes British F3000 with Bromley. Brilliant!

Late in the year, Gary was 5th at Macau, and won the Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Award. He was so impressive that he even got a chance to test Thierry Boutsen's Benetton at Jerez in December 1988 at the behest of Aussie Benetton team manager Peter Collins. There he helped test the Goodyear tyres, and also the Benetton active suspension system. During the year, Brabham had already proven his testing abilities when he helped develop the Avon radial tyre for F3 use.

With a chance to move up in 1989, he once again got a raw deal when the International F3000 drive he was primed for went to Andrea Chiesa. He settled for a drive in the British F3000 series with Bromley Motorsport in an ex-Jean Alesi Reynard 88D Cosworth, winning the inaugural title easily, with 4 victories and 4 poles, and coming 2nd in the Oulton Park Gold Cup.


A drive in the British F3000 Championship withg Bromley Motorsport saw Gary come away a convincing Champion.
A drive in the British F3000 Championship withg Bromley Motorsport saw Gary come away a convincing Champion.

1989

Dabbles in International F3000 without steady drive; tries his hand at Le Mans

He also managed to secure some outings in the International F3000 series for the Bromley and Leyton House teams in a Reynard 89D Cosworth and March 89B Judd respectively, his best being 5th at Brands Hatch. In 1989 he had also made a visit to the Le Mans 24hr classic in a Porsche 962C run by Team Schuppan, partnering Vern Schuppan and Eje Elgh.

Gary was lying 4th at the 21-hour mark when his gearbox had a problem, dropping his car down to an eventual 13th. Returning to the Macau F3 race he was 5th again, and in terms of testing duties he tested the Footwork F3000 car, the Brabham and Leyton House F1 cars, the Porsche Indy car, and he helped to develop an F3000 tyre for Avon, and an anti-roll system for Group A Ford Sierras.

Formula One
1990
Life

Gary endures a poor quality of Life with lacklustre power and hopless chassis

The Italian Life Racing Engines team, managed by Ernesto Vita, entered to race in F1 in 1990, with its own engine and a chassis penned by Richard Divila. The engine was a strange W12 configuration, and the effort was meant to showcase the powerplant, which hopefully a major team would want to pick up. Life signed Brabham as its sole driver, but from its first outing in pre-qualifying at Phoenix, it was clear the whole effort was a joke.

There, Brabham dawdled around before his engine blew on his 4th lap, to record a time of 2:07.147, some 30 seconds slower than the next-slowest entrant, Claudio Langes in a EuroBrun. Oh well, at least that wasn't quite as bad as Gachot in the Coloni/Subaru, who failed even to record a flying (?) lap, and ended up with a time of 5:15.010. Then, in Brazil, it was Brabham's turn to fail to record a proper time in pre-qualifying. In fact, the Life failed to record any time at all, the engine blowing miserably on the out-lap after only 400 metres.


A rare picture indeed. Brabham only lasted 400 metres in pre-qualifying at Interlagos before his Life's engine blew!
A rare picture indeed. Brabham only lasted 400 metres in pre-qualifying at Interlagos before his Life's engine blew!

1990

Brabham sensibly bails on the lost cause, as Bruno inherits the hunk o' junk.

Basically, the car was some 15-20 seconds off pre-qualifying pace at least, translating to around 25 seconds off pole time. When it was clear no improvement was forthcoming, Brabham did the smart thing and got out, giving someone else the chance to waste their time. For those interested, that someone else proved to be Bruno Giacomelli, far from an F1 reject, who drove works Alfa Romeos in the early 1980s to great effect. Nothing could help in this case, though. Any car which was miles slower than a EuroBrun or Coloni was in serious trouble.

Perhaps, quite simply, the Life engine just didn't have the grunt. But after a switch to Judd engines lap times didn't improve, so perhaps it was something inherent in the chassis. Either way the team disappeared after 14 races, and has never been heard of again, in any form of racing. And, as you may have guessed, no one was interested in their W12 engine!

After F1
1990-91

Retreats through F3000 to Australia and America

For the rest of 1990, his main focus was back on F3000, where he did moderately well for Middlebridge Racing in a Lola T89/50 Mugen, recording consecutive 3rd places at Monza and Enna. However, he failed to qualify at Pau and Birmingham. Having then tested for the Mazda Le Mans team, and also for the IMSA Nissan GTP team, he returned to Australia to drive in the Eastern Creek 500 touring car race in a Ford Sierra RS500 for Frank Gardner's team, and with his brother David Brabham, he came 4th.

In 1991 he went across to IMSA in America, and drove a Nissan NPT-90 for Nissan Performance Technology at the Sebring 12hr race, with Derek Daly and brother Geoff Brabham, and from pole they won the race. A drive in another Nissan in a 2hr race at Miami netted 8th spot, and an outing in a Stürtz SM BMW Turbo in the German Interserie Championship at Brands Hatch saw Gary retire. He also drove again at Bathurst in a Ford Sierra for the Allan Moffat team alongside Kiwi Steve Millen, but the car retired.

1992-94

Two starts in Gold Coast IndyCar races, among other drives in sportscar events

In 1992, he rejoined Nissan Performance Technology, but with Daly and Millen he retired from the Daytona 24hr classic whilst running 3rd. Then, in a Nissan NPT-91A shared once again with Daly, brother Geoff, and this time also Dutchman Arie Luyendyk, from 2nd on the grid Gary came close to defending his Sebring title, finishing 2nd. He tested an Indy car for Dick Simon Racing, tried an F3000 Lola at Autopolis, did more testing for the Nissan Le Mans effort, and drove again for Moffat at Bathurst, but team-mate Charlie O'Brien crashed whilst running 4th.

In 1993 and 1994, he made appearances (albeit one-offs) at the Australian Gold Coast IndyCar race - until Jason Bright in 2000, he was the only Australian to do so. In 1993, Brabham qualified a fine 20th, just behind Stefan Johansson and Andrea Chiesa, and ahead of Danny Sullivan, before bring his Dick Simon Lola T92/00 Chevy home in 14th, ahead of Al Unser Jr. But in 1994, in a Bettenhausen Penske PC22 Ilmor, Gary only qualified 27th, and was an early retirement with transmission problems, having climbed to 12th after only 6 laps.


An historic occasion - all the Brabham boys together for the first time at the Adelaide 'Race of Legends' in 2000. In red shirts L to R are Geoff, David and Jack. Gary is in the white shirt with blue pants. The car Gary drove to a class victory was Nbr 23.
An historic occasion - all the Brabham boys together for the first time at the Adelaide 'Race of Legends' in 2000. In red shirts L to R are Geoff, David and Jack. Gary is in the white shirt with blue pants. The car Gary drove to a class victory was Nbr 23.

1994-2000

Retires from competitive racing, starts his own advanced driver traing courses

For the rest of 1994 tried to drive in the IndyLights series, but could not find sufficient backing. Instead, he did some historic racing at the Watkins Glen Brabham reunion, driving his dad's 1959 championship-winning Cooper, the 1966 Brabham BT18 F3 car, and the 1989 BT58 F1 car.

Brabham subsequently retired from international motor racing in 1995 and began to offer advanced driver training courses. He has an operation on the Gold Coast, but he has also tutored overseas. He trained Rowan Atkinson and Captain Mark Phillips for the British GP celebrity race, and he also taught celebrities competing in the Australian GP celebrity races. Gary has also been hired by the likes of Porsche, Vauxhall, Rover, Ford, Volkswagen, GM and Mercedes to drive at press launches.

All the same, he couldn't help himself when he was given a chance to drive a Brabham Repco BT23 in the Race of Legends support race at the Adelaide 500 V8 Supercar event in 2000. Showing that he'd lost none of his racing skill, he came 3rd, and won his class.

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