Steely determination. Relentless on the racetrack. Relaxed outside the car. Let’s his driving do the talking. Always ready with a big smile. Which member of the racing Brabham family are we referring to? All of them.
19-year-old Matthew Brabham, son of Can-Am, Indy car and IMSA legend Geoff Brabham, nephew of ALMS champion and two-time Le Mans winner David Brabham and grandson of three-time Formula 1 world champion Jack Brabham, carries a surname that has been at the forefront of motorsports for more than 50 years, but it’s the commonalities the traits he shares with those family members that make him unique.
The Florida-born, Australia-bred driver (posing with Dad, RIGHT) took four wins last year in the USF2000 championship, claiming the championship in his first season of competition in America with a wise-beyond-his-years approach. His closest rival, Spencer Pigot, had twice the number of wins eight victories in the 14-round season but with Brabham banking five second-place finishes and one third, his consistency as a rookie was too much to overcome.
With circuit familiarity on his side, Brabham entered the Pro Mazda series this year and has simply demolished the opposition. 11 wins from 14 rounds handed Brabham the title with two races left two run, and the experience of dominating his rivals including Pigot who also graduated to Pro Mazda has the third-generation driver standing out as one of the promising talents on the Mazda Road to Indy.
Like the elders in the Brabham family, Matthew has demonstrated both ends of the spectrum with his driving by demoralizing the opposition whenever possible and making sure he has a place on the podium when victory is out of reach. Those are attributes normally found within those who’ve graduated from the open-wheel ladder something shared by IndyCar champions Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon which makes a teenager like Brabham stand out even more.
“It’s one of those things I haven’t noticed too much about myself,” said Brabham, who was too young to watch his father in his prime. “I guess it happens that way because I grew up with my dad and David (with Matthew during the latter’s Formula Renault appearance with the Team USA Scholarship team in England last year, RIGHT) helping me in my racing. That’s how they treated their racing and I have adopted that mentality.
“And David’s very big about that stuff when he’s at my events; he wants me to put my head down and get results. Another big influence was at Cape Motorsports last year in USF2000. Their attitude was to keep quiet on and let our driving send the message. It’s one of the best traits to have, I think.”
He and his father have had essentially the same season 25 years apart. Geoff ran away with the 1988 IMSA GTP title, winning nine of 12 races, including eight straight victories. In what has served as a silver anniversary tribute, Matthew’s streak of seven consecutive Pro Mazda wins was a nice (albeit unintentional) nod to his father.
And when Brabham’s Nissan GTP team lost its edge in 1990 and 1991, he earned just five wins, but thanks to a staggering 20 top-3s, added two more championships to his tally. Watching his son use the same podium-first formula to secure the USF2000 title must have made him proud.
With an advancement prize coming his way for earning the Pro Mazda title, Brabham should find himself in the Indy Lights series in 2014, but maintaining his current form is the obvious challenge to face.
2012 Pro Mazda champion Jack Hawksworth won the same number of races on his American debut, catapulting himself into the Lights series with Sam Schmidt Motorsports (BELOW), but those 11 wins and the general mastery he displayed in Pro Mazda didn’t necessarily travel with him to the top step of the ladder.
Despite being three years younger than Hawksworth, Brabham appears to be cut from a harder material at this stage of his career, which could lead to a smoother, more consistent debut if and when he makes the jump to Lights.
“I’m definitely already thinking about next year,” he admitted. “Being on top of what’s happening in Lights is going to give you an advantage. The earlier you can get things sorted out, the better off your year is going to be. Things worked out for me with the tires changing to Coopers in Pro Mazda this year; it leveled the playing field.
“You have a change next year with Cooper tires coming in with Indy Lights, and being out early to develop the car and learn all the new things you need to adapt to is something I can’t wait for. I don’t have everything lined up yet for next year, but things are looking good.”
Brabham’s rapid rise has been balanced with a healthy appreciation for the opportunities he’s been given and the chances that await him on the way towards his goal of becoming an IndyCar driver.
“I am just so, so pleased that I made this decision to come over and race in the States and go through the Mazda Road to Indy,” he said. “In the last two years I just earned so much valuable experience that it’s just been absolutely incredible and priceless. Looking at Europe and all the other countries, even when I was racing in Australia, everything is very closed in. The drivers don’t really talk to each other.
“For whatever reason, IndyCar and the whole ladder series and all the guys in IndyCar are all so open and are just really, really helpful. It doesn’t matter what team you’re with, they’ll come and talk to you. All the IndyCar drivers, I have at least met once or twice. I’ve said hello. It’s great for networking and making friends and I’ve just had an absolute blast. I don’t think there’s a better spot at the moment to further my career.”
Brabham would like to continue with the Andretti team after lighting up the Pro Mazda series, and with Andretti’s Carlos Munoz currently leading the Indy Lights championship, he has a clear path to stay with the reigning IndyCar Series champions and work his way up the ladder.
“We’ve been talking about doing Lights together and the whole team is just really incredible,” he added. “If you look at the jumps, I think Indy Lights are about 5 to 6 seconds quicker than Pro Mazda, and then IndyCar is about 5 to 6 seconds quicker than an Indy Lights car. So there’s pretty big lessons to be gained there. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, because if you go into IndyCar too early and you don’t have the experience and you don’t do well in your first year, it could really ruin your whole career in IndyCar.
“So I want to be really, really careful and just be patient. I want to pace myself a little bit and make sure I have all the experience and move into IndyCar when I’m ready. That might take more than one season in Lights, and if it does, I just want to make sure that when I do move to IndyCar I can really do the job properly for my team.”