EXCLUSIVE Brabham on the USCC and a racing dynasty
23 January 2014
The new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship will burst into life this weekend, with the Daytona 24 Hours heralding a new dawn for sportscar racing in the United States.
Amongst the drivers taking part will be David Brabham in one of two HPD ARX-03b cars entered by the Extreme Speed Motorsports team in the Prototype class.
Ahead of the race, which will be the first of three outings for Brabham in the series, we sat down with the 48-year-old at the Autosport International show to look ahead to 2014 while also reflecting on 2013 and a season that, while quiet on-track for the former Le Mans winner, was anything but behind the scenes as he worked on a new project resulting in the recent launch of a new website to tell the story of the Brabham racing dynasty…
The 2013 season saw you carry out a varied programme with a mix of different drives but nothing that was full-time. How much did you enjoy the season on-track?
Well to be honest, while it was a programme that was smaller, it was deliberately that way for two reasons. Firstly, I was working on some other things in the background and knew that in 2013, they would keep me busier and that I couldn't commit to a full programme as a result. I also felt I'd gone a bit stale towards the end of 2012 and felt that I needed a bit of a break. It allowed me to get refreshed and to regroup and it meant that when I went to Petit Le Mans last year, I got in the car and was quick, hungry and motivated.
The break really worked but with all the other things that were also going on, it was the right decision to scale things back and I don't look back at last year in a negative way at all.
You didn't compete at Le Mans last year, which must have been tough?
I'd have liked to race at Le Mans, but at the same time, it wasn't something I was chasing because racing in the Le Mans 24 Hours is a very heavy duty thing and as I've mentioned, I felt I needed that break last year and also had to focus on my activities elsewhere. Le Mans is part of my life and I love the place to pieces, but I didn't want to just go there to compete, I'd only go there to win and that would have taken up a lot of my time.
I did go to Le Mans as a fan, which was a different experience, and it was nice to see some of the things that go on from the 'other side'. However, with Allan Simonsen's accident, I wasn't too displeased about the fact that I wasn't in the race, and wasn't as emotionally attached to the tragic events that happened.
You had your V8 Supercar outings, which gave you a chance to sample the Car of Tomorrow for the first time. What did you make of the experience?
Racing at Surfers Paradise wasn't something that was in my schedule, but the team needed a driver and I was free, so I went to Australia and it was a great experience. I love the event and I was straight into the car for the weekend. If I'm being honest, it didn't feel too different to the old car, which was a bit of a disappointment as I thought they would have made more progress in how it behaves. It did ride the kerbs better, but in many ways it felt the same.
The big thing for you last year was the fact that you won your trademark battle over the Brabham name and there are big plans moving forwards. What can you say about those plans?
Of course the good news is that it was settled in our favour and once that was done, we could start to put the plans we have in place. I'd already carried out a branding exercise with an expert so we could fully understand what the Brabham brand is and what the meaning behind it is. With anything, you have to understand the brand and that was a long-term thing. I activated it before the court case ended as I was confident of success and it's important that we get the message right going forwards.
I look at some brands that are out there and think that they haven't done enough with their ethos and their message, and wanted to make sure that the Brabham brand was better than that; I certainly feel we are moving in the right direction.
As part of the plans, a collective web presence is something that we needed in order to bring together the whole Brabham family together, and there is a lot of history that we can make use of. We have plans in place for it in the future and there are a lot of interesting things we can do and opportunities we are looking at.
The young generation will be a big part of it with their racing careers, but that historical element must be something that is quite exciting to explore?
That is the real beauty of what we have. There is a lot of history and heritage in what we have achieved as a family, and also with the F1 team. We can do a lot with that, and also look to develop the brand in future with Sam and Matthew.
Sam had a very visible presence in the UK with his Formula Ford programme in 2013. How pleased were you with his season?
I was very pleased because it wasn't what I expected. His first race at Donington blew me away a little bit as he hadn't done much testing and even when he was karting, he probably didn't do as much as many of his rivals so he didn't have much experience.
We could see in karting with the way he drove that we really needed to get him into a car and when we did, the performance at Donington was just stunning. He showed that he has the ability and just needed the experience, and that was what 2013 was all about. It was a chance for him to learn the circuits, to learn about the car and to learn about himself when it comes to getting the best from the car. Looking back, he exceeded the expectations we had; it was a great year.
He was just unlucky that Dan Cammish was there to dominate…
I think psychologically it was tough for all of the drivers with Dan being there and dominating as he did, but it was also good in a way as people may have a period in the career when they have to deal with the fact that another driver or team is dominant. Sam was able to learn a lot about himself and when Dan stood down from his drive after Rockingham, it opened it up and changed the dynamic of the paddock. There were some cracking races towards the end of the season.
What are the plans for him for this season?
We're still working on it but the preference would be to stay in Formula Ford. He knows what the series is all about and it good to be on the BTCC package as our racing is commercially driven and it has the visibility for sponsors. Sam has sponsors who have been with him since his karting days and who have established a good relationship with the Brabham name and hopefully that will continue.
You will be with ESM for a number of events in the new unified American series, starting with Daytona. How did testing go?
It was good. At Petit Le Mans, Scott asked me if I wanted to do three endurance events and I said yes. The only one of the four longer events I won't do is Watkins Glen as they are just going to run the two drivers there.
I think it took a week to do the deal and having been part of the ALMS for so long, it was great to be part of the final race there and to now be involved in the first race of what is a new chapter for sportscar racing in the United States. I'm with a team I know and in a car I know but we'll have to see how it pans out. Testing went okay but the DP cars were quicker than us, which we expected with the rules.
How hard will it be to get parity between the DP and P2 cars?
That is a good question and a lot will come down to how honest people are. The rule makers are trying to do the best they can from what I can see in order to make sure that teams are giving right the information to try and balance things out, but if teams are holding things back then it makes it more difficult. It will probably be six or seven races before we really know if they've got it right and I expect a lot of changes over the season to improve the show.
There will be more than 60 cars and a large difference in performance between them at Daytona. Does that make it one of the toughest races there is when you consider the number of cars on such a short circuit?
Daytona is always a great challenge because there are a lot of cars, although the speed differential isn't as bad as in the past so that isn't really an issue. The different from a P2 car to a GT car isn't as large as when the Group C cars were racing as it was massive back then. If anything, the performance gap is now smaller between the top and the bottom, which causes other issues as it is more difficult to pass the slower cars and you have to take more risks. But we're ready for it as a team and will do the best that we can.
The merger is done and dusted now, but do you think it's been the right decision?
When you look in the past and the two series, there was good and bad in both but there is a real opportunity now to make sportscar racing even greater in the USA. There will be a honeymoon period and then there will be a time when things are tougher as people learn to work together, but I think there is a lot of potential in the future.
Will we see you back at Le Mans this season?
I would like to get back to Le Mans in a P2 or GT car but it would have to be one that is competitive. I am talking to a team at the moment and would like to do it as I feel fresh again and my performance at Petit Le Mans said a lot about what I can do. At Daytona, I was quick as well in testing so the break has obviously done me good and now I'm hungry for more success.
Do you have anything else planned racing wise?
The Brabham project will still take up a lot of my time so I can't do too much, but I'd love to do the V8s again. They want to keep the local drivers employed so there aren't as many options as there was in the past, but if one comes up, I'd love to do it as I know I can be quick and I'd love the chance to win at Bathurst in a V8 Supercar.
It is something that would be great for the CV as even though I've won at Bathurst in the past and the record books show I have a Bathurst 1000 title to my name, it was in a two-litre car. It would be a huge challenge to do it in a V8 but its something that I think would be possible.
Your management programme will also take up time during the year ahead…
Yeah it will. I've joined forces with Martin Grogan and Jonathan Bancroft to form a new company aimed at helping young drivers. Jonathan is someone I used to race against in F3 before he went to work in the commercial world with McLaren and Benetton before setting up his own gig, and Martin is someone I worked with at Simtek back in 1994 where he did the livery on the car.
We put our talents together to create BB&G, and are looking to work with some of the best young drivers there are. We can offer a bespoke package so if someone wants the commercial side they can do that, they can do the performance side if they want to do that or can look at the marketing side - or they can do it all.
We have signed commercial deals with Felix Rosenqvist and Conor Daly and have some others we are talking to as well. Hopefully we work with an F1 driver in future as our focus is on trying to work with guys who are in F1 or who are working to be there. The commercial side of things in particular is vital these days and there are a lot of people who are looking for help along the way.