Sir Jack Brabham – a trailbazer and a champion

Date: May 20, 2014 / Posted by control

The world of motor sport has lost one of its greatest with the passing of Sir Jack Brabham at the age of 88.

In terms of what he contributed to the sport of Formula I he was a nonpareil.

From humble beginnings racing on the speedway cinder tracks of Sydney he went on to become a triple world champion at Formula I level.

Brabham achieved a feat that has never been matched, and likely never will, as his third world title, in 1966, came behind the wheel of a car that bore his own name. With close friend and business partner Ron Tauranac, who owned Motor Racing Developments, the Brabham Racing Organization designed and constructed the vehicle that Sir Jack raced to the title.

He thus became the first and only man to claim the drivers’ and constructors’ championship in the same year.

Brabham had spent time as an engineer in the RAAF and ran his own engineering firm before he turned his attention to motor racing in speedway midget cars at age 21 in 1948. That same season he claimed the national speedcar championship, repeating the feat over the following three years.

His successes in midgets on both sides of the Tasman saw him move to England in 1955 to further his budding racing career.

His natural talents and incredible work ethic saw him move through the grades with seeming ease.

In 1955, at the age of 29, he made his Formula I debut at the British Grand Prix behind the wheel of a two-litre mid-engine Bobtail.

Brabham’s maiden Formula I victory came at the iconic Monaco Grand Prix which opened the 1959 season. He followed that result with several more podium finishes ahead of victory at the British GP.

Heading into the final race of the 1959 season – the United States GP at Sebring – Brabham was in contention for the world title. When Stirling Moss withdrew from the race after gearbox trouble Brabham assumed the lead before disaster struck with his Cooper running out of petrol on the final lap. Undeterred, the taciturn Australian hopped out and pushed his car across the line to finish fourth. His principal rival, Ferrari’s Tony Brooks, could manage no better than third place to see Brabham claim his first world title by a margin of four points.

He won his second world title the following year.

In 1962, Brabham parted ways with Cooper and drove for his own team – Brabham Racing Organization using cars built by Tauranac’s MRD. Initially the new team was plagued by mechanical problems.

During the 1965 season Brabham started to toy with the idea of retirement in favour of managing his fledgling team. At the end of that season American Dan Gurney – who claimed ten podium finishes that year – opted to leave Brabham’s team to form his own. That move saw Brabham shelve any thoughts of retirement – a decision that reaped huge rewards.

When Formula I made the move to 3-litre engines for the 1966 season most teams ran 12-cylinder power plants which proved to be unreliable and heavy. Under Brabham’s instructions his engine manufacturer, Repco developed an 8-cylinder motor.

Brabham’s decision met with instant success as he claimed victory at the French GP at Reims-Gueux, his first race win since 1960 and the first in the sport’s history by a driver in a car he constructed. As the season wore on the likelihood of another world title gained a sharper focus.

Many in the media questioned however whether a 40-year-old had the necessary goods to deliver. Brabham, an undemonstrative man by nature, fired back at the critics when he strode to his car on the start line for the Dutch GP wearing a false beard and walking with the ‘aid’ of a cane.

It was Sir Jack who had the last laugh with victory at the Italian GP securing his third world title.

The following year the championship went to Brabham’s teammate, New Zealander Denny Hulme.

Brabham retired from Formula I at the end of the 1970 season, where at the age of 44 he finished fifth in the overall standings behind the winner, Scot Jackie Stewart.

He finished 126 of the 128 races he started, claiming 14 wins and a total of 31 podium finishes on the back of 13 pole positions.

Having being named Australian of the Year following his third world title in 1966 he was made a knight in 1970, joining fellow Australian sportsmen Hubert Opperman and Don Bradman in that select club.

Sir Jack became the patriarch of a motor racing dynasty with his three sons to wife Betty – Geoff, Gary and David – each enjoying success at various levels of the sport. Two of his grandsons – Matthew and Sam – are currently making careers overseas for themselves in the cut-throat industry.

Sir Jack was always a man of few words, spoken through a mouth that seemed to barely open.

However, when he did speak, people listened.

Sadly, that voice was silenced with his passing on the Gold Coast earlier today.

First published on The Roar – www.theroar.com.au – on 19 May 2014