As expected, the second weekend of November in England brought rain. And more rain. Some cold too. Yet, despite this, there was quite a buzz around a relaxed Brands Hatch paddock. For the first time in 27 years, a car wearing the Brabham badge was competing. It was a far cry from the halcyon days in Formula 1 between the 1960s and early 1990s, but the final round of the 2019 Dunlop Endurance Championship was a huge milestone for the new brand, its investors, staff and, most pertinently, the man behind it all.
David Brabham, the youngest son of the late founding father of Brabham and double F1 world champion Jack, finally saw the culmination of four years worth of planning, financing, negotiating, structuring and assembling the Brabham Automotive project. In typical Brabham style, the stunning BT62‘s competitive debut was marked with a win in tricky conditions.
Furthermore, Brabham was also driving alongside business partner and former club racer Will Powell – meaning that for the first time in 39 years, a Brabham had won driving an eponymous car. A repeat of the pleasant weather seen at Kyalami in March 1970 for the South African Grand Prix would have been appreciated by many, too.
Due to the nature of the competition, the BT62 had its performance toned down accordingly. Usually, the race-going model of the £1,200,000 road-legal car has a power output of around 750bhp – provided by a 5.4-litre, naturally aspirated V8 engine – but the use of Balance of Performance rules meant that the BT62 could only use 60% of said power. A restrictive ballast was also in use.
The unit does bear the Brabham logo, but it is not an in-house build. In fact, at the car’s May 2018 launch in London’s Australia House, Brabham remained coy over the manufacturer of the engine. Speculation suggests that honour belongs to Ford, with a few modifications beefing up the performance specs.
Having a look at the rest of the car, Brabham tried to ensure that the BT62 could help its consumers “experience driving in its purest form”. With a standard weight of 972kg, all the power goes to the rear wheels and is controlled by a semi-automatic, six-speed, gearbox. There are carbon Kevlar wheel housings, carbon brakes, built-in pneumatic jacks and a bespoke fuel connection system to fill up the 125-litre tank.
But, as far as “driver aids” go, only ABS and traction control will save the poor souls that mistake this for a mere road car. And it’s hard to utilise the 1200kg of downforce the aerodynamic appendages produce trundling through Belsize Park.
Saying this, however, Brabham explained that he wanted to show the world what Brabham Automotive could do. It’s backed up the talk and created a race-winning machine that could, on paper, happily take on the McLaren Senna GTR or the Aston Martin Vulcan AMR Pro. Maybe even the Mercedes AMG Project One and the Aston Martin Valkyrie.
The BT62 is very much the foundation of the company, with subsequent cars following the basis and lessons taken from the company’s opening offer.
“In terms of the start of this project, I was always looking to see what I could do with the name and resurrect it,” Brabham told The Checkered Flag.
“But I needed the right partners with the right project to be able to do that. I was introduced to Fusion Capital in Adelaide, Australia. They’re involved in manufacturing and they wanted to build a high-performance vehicle. I was looking for something that I could get involved in, bring the name to them and go in a certain direction.
“It all made sense, the timing really worked for us also. We worked on the BT62 to showcase the engineering and design capabilities of Brabham Automotive and the product speaks for itself in many ways.
“We have some long-term goals that we are working towards. Ultimately we want to be a high-performance car manufacturer on the road with some really cool cars. And a lot of that will come off the back of the basis of the BT62 in terms of the design and the drivability. And we want to go racing as well, that’s where Brabham’s DNA is.
“This whole project is a risk,” the 54-year-old continues.
“But Brabham has never been shy of a challenge if you look at our history. We’ve always backed ourselves and gone after it and not been too worried of failure, it’s all about making it succeed. The Brabham DNA moving forward is still very much the same as this project.
“We developed a car, built it, tested it and showed the world what we’ve just done; not what we’d like to do. There’s a big difference in the market and it takes a lot to gain credibility as a new manufacturer.”
Not only will the BT62 act as the company’s flagship road car for the foreseeable future, but Brabham has the aim of entering it into the big leagues in racing with the Competition Spec evolution. A full season in the DEC for 2020 is scheduled after this taster event, but it is by no means the ceiling for this car’s racing story.
No stranger to the top level of endurance racing himself – with 18 entries at the 24 Hours of Le Mans under his belt, some spent in the terrifyingly fast and raw Group C era – Brabham is targeting the 2021/22 World Endurance Championship as the name’s return to elite motorsport.
Peugeot Sport has already been tempted back into sportscar racing for 2022/23 with the upcoming rule changes regarding the successor to the LMP1 class, and with Aston Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing and potentially Ford Motorsport all confirmed or showing interest – Brabham’s debut will likely be met with stern competition. That is if it chooses to target the overall win instead of a GTE class win – which would still be a major achievement.
Brabham admits that this “big target” is still in its formative stages. There’s the matter of sponsorships to be sorted out – with BT62 tyre supplier Goodyear exploring the viability of taking on French giant Michelin in the hypercar category – and what modifications the car requires to compete legally and competitively. Ultimately, as Brabham states, he wants to return to the Circuit de la Sarthe and work towards a victory.
“We said at the time [January 2019, when the idea was formally announced] that it’s ambitious,” he says, slightly cautiously.
“We need to earn the right to grow as a business to be able to support such a programme, because it’s a big programme. We’re working towards it – this is the first step in terms of that racing environment and working with partners like Goodyear and other sponsors coming on board too, who may want to be on that journey with us.
“Le Mans is very much a big target for us. Not just to compete, we want to go there and win as well. To be able to go to Le Mans with a Brabham on-track and be successful in the race is huge for what we’re trying to achieve. But, at the same time, we’re working on road car projects for the future. So there’s a lot going on in the background.
“[The class is] to be determined. When we first looked at the WEC, GTE seemed a logical choice. It was either going to be the BT62 or the next variant, which is the road car.
“The hypercar rules were changing all the time, so we didn’t really focus on that. But now it’s somewhat settled and opens up a door for something like a BT62. It would have to be modified quite a bit, and there has to be a lot of work to the performance area to get it where they want these cars to be.
“That’s a big job as well, there aren’t that many manufacturers that are jumping into hypercars right now. They’re all still waiting to see what it going on, and we’re no different, but they’re much bigger than we are.
“Once we’ve decided if that [the hypercar class] is where we want to go, then there’s a whole range of study and analysis that we need to do to know what is going to make it competitive.”
While the Brands Hatch debut on Saturday was met with victory in cold, wet and dark conditions; Sunday brought problems. Once more, the BT62 was in a class of its own in terms of pure lap time (even with the reins still firmly pulled in) and enjoyed a near two-second-per-lap advantage on its nearest rivals – a Ferrari 488 Challenge, Praga R1T and a Ginetta G55 Supercup.
However, electrical problems curtailed the hope of maintaining the car’s 100% success rate in competition. Saturday’s only plight was a fogged up windscreen behind the Safety Car – something that Powell jokes could have been fixed with a trusty rag on a stick. Remember that this car does want to offer “driving in its purest form“.
For Powell, who had set the eventual fastest lap of Sunday’s race moments before retirement, this is a project he has a real attachment to. The Brit’s trade lies in motorsport marketing through his role as Managing Director of motorsport and automotive consultancy company Motus One; but he does have previous experience of racing at junior level.
Powell has enjoyed the compliance of the BT62 and the benefits of Brabham’s Driver Development Programme, open to all of the BT62 owners. The scheme looks to take racers with experience at national level and breed them into Pro/Am level drivers – with Brabham acting as a welcome mentor.
“I’ve been a bit of a guinea pig for this programme,” Powell says. “I’ve had the good fortune to work with David and learn from him.
“It’s a big step up, it would be for anybody due to the performance level of the car. But the reality is that it’s very drivable and good for the Pro-Am/Am level driver despite its performance.
“But on top of that, in terms of endurance racing, you need somebody like David who has been there and done it. Two hours is a doddle for him, but for me it’s a challenge. In terms of the preparation it’s been great. We’ve definitely moved forward and refined a lot of things.
“We’re not trying to take somebody who goes go-karting with the kids in the summer holidays twice a year and take them all the way through to Le Mans. There’s a longer process, it’s not like I came through with no experience at all. But as for taking people out of club level and into the serious upper echelons of motorsport, there’s no better way for it on the market with any other manufacturers.”
Brabham, who also started in 24 F1 grands prix split between 1990 and 1994, certainly has the requisite experience and talent to help drivers get to their desired position. While he says that he is also still improving his own skillset, his long history working with drivers brings a near sixth sense.
“In a racing environment, from my experience as a driver and working with other drivers as a team and how you get the best out of them – mentally, physically, technically,” Brabham details.
“I’ve learnt a lot in that area over 30 years and worked with a lot of different people. I’ve been helping Will out on this journey, I’ve been watching him in other races. You try and get inside their heads and understand where they’re coming from, where they need to improve on, where they’re good at and say, ‘No, don’t focus on that and worry, don’t go that way. Go this way, because that’s where you’re going to get further.’
“Having worked with drivers myself for a long time, I know what it takes. I can suss it out straight away and say where they need to go. And it’s about supporting them and getting the best out of them from the physical side and the mental side.
“We’ve done some mental training stuff as well, which is difficult until we really know each other. But then you pick it up and know what to focus on. And you can always improve, I’m still improving.”
Having struggled through seven-years worth of legal battles to win the right to the Brabham logo and name as a trademark between 2007 and 2014, the maiden victory at Brands felt like a championship victory for everyone involved at the UK and Australian branches.