Matthew Brabham and his father Geoff couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate weekend to dominate qualifying for Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s highest profile race — the Indy Legends Charity Pro-Am presented by RACER Magazine. The qualifying session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway produced a father-son front row for Saturday’s Pro-Am just in time for Father’s Day. Matt edged dad Geoff by 51 hundredths of a second for pole.
All the more impressive is that he did it with owner Mike Donohue’s smaller-block B Production 1963 Corvette Roadster — the oldest car in the field. Geoff drove a 1969 A Production Corvette (pictured below), as did third-fastest Willy T. Ribbs, who was two-tenths of second further back and his car will start in the second row with NASCAR champion Bill Elliott and his co-driver Ray Evernham.
“If I had to pick one driver I could feel good about beating me, it’s could only be Matt,” said an obviously proud Geoff. “Matt is always willing to jump in any type of race car and get the most out of it.”
“The is an awesome experience for me, to be on the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway competing with all these amazing legends,” Matt said. “Just a couple of hours earlier I was sitting in a press conference with my dad, Johnny Rutherford, Bill Elliott, Al Unser, Jr., Paul Tracy, and, Willy T. Ribbs. I am truly honored to be among these massive legends.”
Matt, at 24, is easily the most youthful of the pros with Darren Manning at 42 the next youngest. Dick Simon, who is starting his last-ever auto race, is a full 60 years older than Brabham.
Both Brabhams agree that the opportunity for Matt to participate in the race is valuable.
“In any type of car it is important to find balance and feel the grip of the tires on the track,” Geoff said. “Matt is racing a variety of cars and he’s always learning.”
“I have tremendous respect for all these legends,” Matt says. “Just being on the track and watching how they attack corners, pass, or enter and exit is a great opportunity to learn. I also learn from how they conduct themselves off the track.”
Aside from the work of the Brabhams, the most impressive performance of the day may have come from Paul Tracy, who earned the fifth starting position in a car he had never driven before heading out on the track to qualify it. Tracy and Gary Moore, co-winners in the B Production class in 2016, endured a tough two days of practice that eventually forced Moore to withdraw one of the top cars entered in the contest.
A sticky throttle was the culprit in two incidents, first with Tracy, the second with Moore. Tracy plowed into a cluster of tires positioned to cushion blows for errant cars at the end of the Hulman Boulevard straight on Thursday. Moore’s team thrashed through the night only to have the owner wad his racer up in the SAFER barrier at the south end of the track in Friday morning practice. The sticking throttle problem had not been resolved. SVRA recruited a replacement to enable Tracy to drive John Scott’s B Production 1971 Corvette.
The highly touted Legendary Motor Car team of Velocity TV personality Peter Klutt struggled as 2014 Pro-Am winner Al Unser, Jr. qualified seventh. Teammate Jimmy Kite in the other Klutt entry broke his transmission just after his warm-up lap. Kite will start last.
New rules this year created the entertaining qualifying session. This is the first year the amateurs did not qualify their cars, leaving the task to the professionals. The qualifying session was organized into four, four-lap run groups with four to six different cars in each session. Also, unlike the previous four years, amateurs will only be allowed to complete seven laps in the race before turning their machines over to their professional co-drivers. The amateurs will start, but fans should enjoy knowing that the professionals will be pitted against each other for more than half the race. Also interesting for fans will be to see how the amateurs defend or improve the starting position earned by their co-drivers.