Vale Sir Jack Brabham
Three-time Formula One world champion Sir Jack Brabham has died, aged 88. From an unlikely and somewhat reluctant beginning in the late 1940s in a speedway midget on the dirt ovals of NSW, Brabham graduated to hillclimbs and then road racing in the early ‘50s.
He built up an association with the Cooper marque rstly as a customer, but later becoming an integral part of their grand prix effort.
A Royal Australian Air Force mechanic during the war, Sir Jack was equally motivated by the technical challenge of motor racing as the actual on-track competition, and indeed at Cooper he was as much engineer as driver.
On the technical side he found a condant back in Sydney in Ron Tauranac. During his time at Cooper, which saw Brabham net back-to-back world championships in 1959-60, the two Australians worked together via letter correspondence to develop the Cooper package.
In this regard Brabham, with that remote input from Sydney, played an instrumental role in the midengine revolution that swept the sport at the start of the 1960s.
This was literally the case at Indianapolis in 1961. Brabham’s rookie appearance in the Indy 500 that year in a mid-engined Cooper was so impressive that it almost single-handedly marked the end for the classic front-engined Indy Roadster.
A measure of the importance of the Brabham/Tauranac association is evidenced by Cooper’s sudden decline after the Australian pair left in 1962 to establish their own team making their own cars. Soon the new Brabham marque would become the biggest customer racing car manufacturer in the world.
At the age of 39, Brabham considered retirement in 1965 but opted to continue in order to ll the void left by the unexpected departure of Dan Gurney from the Brabham F1 team. In the meantime Brabham had arranged with the Repco company back in Melbourne to develop a Buick V8 block into a race engine for the new 3-litre formula, set for the following year. The Brabham-Repco combination proved the one to beat in 1966, with Brabham becoming the only man to win the world championship in a car of his own manufacture. He narrowly missed out the following year, but team-mate Denny Hulme made it consecutive titles for the Brabham team. Brabham remained competitive even in his nal year in Formula One, in 1970, at the age of 45. Indeed, had a few things gone differently that year, he might well have scored a fourth title.
Separate from his unquestionable status as one of the greatest drivers of all time, Brabham should be recognised for the key role he played in the mid-engine revolution that changed the sport forever and established a basic racing car drivetrain conguration that remains the optimal layout more than 50 years later. On the track, the Brabham legend lives on. Sons Geoff, Gary and David enjoyed successful careers of their own, with both Geoff and David claiming the Le Mans 24 Hour among their many achievements. Meanwhile, third generation Brabhams Matthew (Geoff’s son) and Sam (David’s son) are currently showing all the signs of continuing the motor racing dynasty started 66 years ago by their grandfather.