Brabham Fortnight: An interview with David Brabham

David Brabham in the Highcroft HPD ARX-01e at Sebring 12 Hours in 2011 (c) Highcroft Racing
David Brabham in the Highcroft HPD ARX-01e at Sebring 12 Hours in 2011 (c) Highcroft Racing

We are detailing Australia’s first family of motorsport – the Brabham family.  They Brabham family are one of the few families that have successfully had multiple generations to win championships and had multiple siblngs to win championships.  The Brabhams are mentioned in the same breath as the Andrettis and Fittapaldis.  They are legeds of the sport and over the years we have interviewed the Brabham brothers.  We will bring you interviews with the brothers, Geoff, David and Gary and pictures of the family racing exploits.

To date, we have brought you an interview with Geoff and a gallery commemorating Sir Jack Brabham’s first F1 Championship with a recreation event at the Gold Coast.

Here we catch up with David and an interview from 2010.

You have had a great year in the ALMS with your second LMP Championship there – can you tell us how you rate your year and your relationship with co-driver Simon Pagenaud?

We have had two fantastic years.  The team is fairly new in relative terms when compared to a lot of other established successful teams.  The rise of Highcroft Racing has had in terms of their success has been phenomenal.  We were the best Acura team when we not the fancied team and we progressed and got better and better.  We now have won two Championships with Simon this year – racing against him last year [in 2009 Brabham drove with Scott Sharp].  He has been a fantastic addition to the team.  It has taken a little of the weight off my shoulders – the team relied on me a lot but having Simon there has spread the load a lot.  We get on very well and he is very fast.  We push each other and get on well together and it has been a great year in terms of success but the chemistry of the team has been great as well.

You used the LMP1 last year but this year you raced the revised the LMP2 car for the 2010 combined regulations.  How much difference was there between the 2008 and 2010 cars and why was the P2 car chosen?

When the regulations came out that were combining P1 and P2, last year’s car – the P1 Acura was available for us but it was an expensive car to run.  It was twice as expensive to run as the P2 car.  In terms budget it made sense.  Although we wouldn’t be the quickest on the straights, we felt we had a strong reliable and well known package that we could race this year.  We got off to a great start and kept that momentum even though we may not have been the fastest car out there we were strong, reliable and consistent.  What you have to do to win the Championship.

Was it disappointing not to continue with the Wirth designed Acura P1 car, given that it was a revolutionary car?

Yeah, it was.  Going back into the P2 car we realized that the P1 had a lot of potential.  The biggest issue that we had was the tyre .  The Michelin wide tyre –we had rears on the front – those tyres were developed for the diesel, not this car.  If we had a tyre that was designed for that car through Michelin, the thing would have been absolutely stunning.  We lacked a bit of straight line speed which we would have got with more engine development.  The program was stopped after a year so we never reached its potential in the engine side either.  It was disappointing in one way to stop that but the P2 is such a fun car to drive.  As soon as I got back in that, it was a relief in some ways as we had a tyre developed for the car.  We could do a lot more with it.  Though the potential for the P1 car was quite amazing.

Can you tell us any more on Acura or HPD’s future plans at this stage?

Certainly as far as our program is concerned, it is finished.  The team is now looking at a new program for the future.  I think all manufacturers are looking at new rules.  The diesels have had such an advantage over everyone that it made others not want to get involved as the gap was too big.  You’ll see a lot more hybrids coming in, in the future.  Sportscar racing has always gone through ups and downs – good years and bad years.  We are going through a period of change at the moment as we are developing new rules.  The financial environment is still very testing so there is a lot of change going on.  I think though it is looking good in the future, as people will be a lot more efficient in what they do and how they run their companies.  They won’t waste as much money and they know they have to go racing.  They all realize that as that helps them promote and sell their products.  There is a lot of interest from a lot of manufacturers who want to get involved in sportscar racing – which is great.

On board with David Brabham at Sebring in 2010

You are confident then the future of ALMS and ACO style racing?

Yeah I do.  Yeah definitely.  All we need is one more manufacturer to join Audi and Peugeot and take the fight to them and you will probably see another come soon after that.  Obviously we are hoping that will happen and will be good to be a part of that program.  We will have to wait and see.

You raced and won Le Mans with Peugeot last year – can you tell us about that?

Well obviously I got a big surprise when Peugeot contacted me about Le Mans.  I was already contracted to another P1 manufacturer [Acura] although they weren’t doing Le Mans.  It couldn’t have come at a better time really.  Peugeot were in their third year – in terms of the development of that car.  They had ironed out a lot of the bugs and it was a big, big program.  When I went in there it felt similar to when I went to Bentley.  I went to Bentley in their third year – we finished first and second.  I was second that year and joined Peugeot in their third year and we finished one-two, although this time I won!  It was a great program and it was funny – it feels like that Highcroft Acura are my family and cousins are the Peugeot people.  Whenever I see them they are always warming to me and I am for them. We had such a great time, we had the perfect race and it was nice to catch a big prize like Le Mans.

Driving a diesel powered car – did it feel like a big advantage or was it just driving a manufacturer backed car?

No – when I first drove the car at Barcelona, I drove out of the pits and started to accelerate and as soon as I accelerated, I realized, right there that no one else has a hope in hell.  The power and torque was so strong that you just shot down in the first corner with so much acceleration.  Obviously we didn’t have that kind of acceleration in the Acura, it was fantastic.  The thing is fast and the driving style was slightly different – and I had to adapt slightly to that.  The car was ok, it wasn’t an absolute stunner of a car.  It was a good car, well suited to Le Mans, and it was improved quite a bit for this year, from what they guys were saying.  The power though, when you have that much power, you can carry more downforce and you are better in the corners as well as on the straights.  That is why they have such an advantage.  They can generate a lot of downforce, punch the hole in the air with the power.

And it was a great bit if synergy winning with the same manufacturer that your brother Geoff won with in 1993.

Yeah absolutely.  Too, it was 16 years since they last won, my 16th Le Mans and to win it – with Geoff winning with them in 1993 – he always kept reminding me that he was the only one in the family that won Le Mans.  It is nice to have an equal argument with him now!

When you win a class it is a fantastic feeling and you see the Audi guys go up and collect their trophies and their Rolex watches and bits and pieces.  I wondered what it was like standing up there as the overall winner.  Of course, I ended up getting that experience and I was pleasantly surprised that the feeling was absolutely no different winning overall as winning the class.

You have won Le Mans in GT1, twice – did you get the same buzz taking a class win as winning overall?

Well that is an interesting question.  When you win a class it is a fantastic feeling and you see the Audi guys go up and collect their trophies and their Rolex watches and bits and pieces.  I wondered what it was like standing up there as the overall winner.  Of course, I ended up getting that experience and I was pleasantly surprised that the feeling was absolutely no different winning overall as winning the class.  It was the same feeling, same crowd, same emotions.  It was no different.  The only difference is the outside world.  From my inside world, it made no difference at all.  The outside world’s reaction was very different.

You have proved yourself versatile, winning in the ALMS in LMP1, LMP2, GT1 and GT2, how do you keep that versatility and longevity in the sport?

I think I have got better as I have gotten older.  I have worked hard at it.  I doesn’t come as a fluke – it’s hard work, it’s dedication, it’s commitment, it’s having an open mind to learning and growing – not just as a driver but as a person.  You get a little bit older, a little bit wiser and more mature, you see things slightly differently – you see the bigger picture.  You know how to work with a team better, know how to work with and get the best out of others and that is kind of what I have been trying to do over the last 10-15 years.  Work to get that side of my game better and better every year.  I run a driver development program in the UK and for me it is all about – as a driver, if you are a real asset to the team they are more likely to pay for you to be on their books and if you leave, you leave a hole.  That is what I have tried to do.  I have tried to be as complete and as professional and keep improving at all those areas that make a difference.

You have had success all over the world winning the All Japanese GT Championship, in Europe with sportscars, touring cars, racing in Formula One, in the States in Sportscar and in Australia in feeder series and touring cars, what was it like to race across the world and have that kind of success?

I suppose I treasure every success and every failure as well.  I treasure every failure because that is the way you learn and improve.  I feel fortunate to be racing around the world, to be doing something I love doing.  I have a passion for it and I love people.  I have been in a fantastic environment.  For sure we have our ups and downs but I can’t think of doing anything else.  I am 45 now and I am still doing ok.  That is certainly a positive.

In this paddock today, you and Scott Pruett would be the veterans – so highly regarded.

You have raced a variety of the best cars.   On your CV you have a variety of Bentleys, Jaguars, Ferraris, Aston, 99 races in various Panoz cars.  What are your favourite cars?

I have enjoyed them all.  I was asked this question not long ago.  If you are talking about a car that sticks out in your mine, as just something unbelievable, it would have to be the XJR-14 Silk Cut Jaguar – the 1991 World Sportscar.  I had just come out of F1, doing some races in F3000 and I got an offer to replace Martin Brundle and drive with Teo Fabi and Derek Warwick in the Jaguar.  For me it was a bit of a lifeline as well.  F1 didn’t go the well and F3000 we had no money – only enough to do a few races and this offer came up out of the blue.  I jumped in that car and it was holy s@&t this thing is unbelievable.  It had so much downforce.  I had never driven a car with so much downforce before – not even a Formula 1.  It was just an unbelievable car.  Ross Brawn was the brains behind it.  I have had conversations with Martin Brundle – he has driven a lot of cars as well and he said the same thing – the XJR-14 just stuck out in his mind as well as a phenomenal racecar.

The Bentley was great too.  The engines – the Audi R8 engine was a fantastic motor, I can understand why they won Le Mans so many times with that engine – a very good engine.  Peugeot too, obviously a fantastic engine and a great car for Le Mans.  I have enjoyed the GT stuff as well.  The Aston Martin was a great car to drive – particularly at Le Mans.   It seemed to be more suited to Le Mans than the short tracks with higher downforce.  The car was a bit sensitive and a bit more snappy to drive.  But at Le Mans, it was fantastic to drive.

You have also driven with some great co-drivers.  Guys like Jan Magnussen, Eric Bernard, Scott Sharp, Stefan Johanssan etc – how did you get on with your co-drivers and did you have a favourite?

To be honest I have enjoyed driving with all of them.  Everyone is different, everyone has a different character.  They are all different but we all got on and I never had any issues with my teammates.  I enjoyed everyone and felt fortunate to have been able to drive with these type of drivers.  It has been really cool.

A Highcroft ‘Brabham Blog’ from 2010

How would you like to see the ACO and IMSA shape the rules for the future and even though the 2011 rules have taken a long time to come out, do you agree with they way the rules are heading?

I think we will have to wait and see.  I have never been a rule maker but I can see it would not be particularly easy when you have manufacturers coming all wanting their own advantage.  We’ll have to wait and see.  Next year the cars will be a little slower but within in a year or two they will be back to where they are now.  That is just development.  I don’t know – I totally agree in terms with the hybrid technology and things to make the vehicles more efficient.  I care about the environment and we need to change.  The great thing about racing is that it is run by rules and you can make up whatever rule you want and go from there.  The rule makers are making up new ideas about the future and a lot of that is to introduce the hybrids and the technology that the manufacturers are, kind of, being forced to do.  They need a place to demonstrate and test their own knowledge and experience and expertise and technology.  They need an environment to do that and the ALMS and Le Mans/ACO racing is the only Series in the world that allows you to do that.

Thank you David, our time is up, thanks for joining us.


Interview by Sam Tickell, October 2010

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