Sam Brabham in Formula Fordby Alex Harmer on 17th May 2013
Over the last 60 years there have been several families whose racing success spans generations. Names like Unser, Brabham, Hill and Andretti are as much a part of the sport’s fabric as any team or circuit.
The achievements of Sir Jack Brabham and his sons Geoff, Gary and David are many and varied, with championships in open wheelers and sports cars, not to mention Brabham as a constructor. Now, the next generation is coming along quickly. In America Geoff’s son Matthew is competing in the Pro Mazda Championship – one level below Indy Lights – having won the USF2000 title in 2012. So far he’s won three of four races this year for Andretti Autosport.
In the UK David’s son Sam is making waves in the British Formula Ford Championship with the JTR team. His season began at Donington, the second weekend of the year, and although it was his first time in the car in race conditions, Sam was immediately ready to compete. This being his first season out of karts, he’s fighting for scholarship class honours; in all three races at Donington, he took class podium finishes.
Motor Sport caught up with Sam at Thruxton after the last race of the day and found him strolling through the paddock with an empty champagne bottle in his hand, speaking to his dad, occasionally taking a moment to peer in at his rivals’ cars. At the end of a challenging weekend, he’d just scored his fourth podium of the year.
From the back of the JTR garage Sam talked about his season so far. “I’d had three days testing before the first race,” he said. “We had a shakedown, then a day at Snetterton where it poured with rain. After that was Silverstone, where it rained in the morning and dried up as the day went on. Then we were straight into qualifying at Donington.” Not exactly confidence-inspiring stuff, but Sam’s adapting quickly.
“I feel more comfortable and confident with the car every time I get in it, I’m learning all the time. At Donington it was a bit much, I was really drained afterwards. Not so much physically, but mentally, having to think about what I was doing all the time. With Dan [Cammish] it’s a little bit more natural.”
It was only a matter of time before Sam’s team-mate came up. The five-year Formula Ford veteran has won all nine races so far this year, staking an early claim on the championship. “It’s a great help having someone like him in the team,” explained Sam. “I can see the data, see the video and say ‘this is what’s possible, this is where you’re at and this is how you can improve’. Some of the other teams don’t have that and it’s a great advantage that I can use.”
Sam struggled in qualifying at Thruxton having never raced there before. “We went out on slicks after some rain to see what was going on. I was pushing and I made a few mistakes on each lap and didn’t get it together.” In the first race, the rear end of his Mygale was very loose – not something a driver relishes on the fastest circuit on the calendar. After a spin in race two he fought understeer in race three to bring the car home third in class and fifth overall. A glance at the lap charts shows a growing consistency.
Inevitably, conversation turned to the rest of the Brabham clan and Sam’s view of the past. “I don’t really speak to Granddad that much because he’s out in Australia, but I will from time to time,” he said. “I’ll let him know about my results and he always congratulates me, he likes to see me out there.
“With Dad, it’s different. I’m still his son so we’re always going to argue, but ultimately I know he’s right. If I can be anything like he was, and still is, then I’d be more than happy.
“I was never really interested [in a racing career] as a kid, it was only when I turned 15 that I really wanted to have a go. Dad put it off for about a year, knowing what it’d cost, but finally he relented. I think having the name helps. You’re always going to get a bit more publicity and more people coming up to you, but that’s great, I enjoy talking to fans. It’s good to hear the stories from Granddad’s day as well. They remember seeing him race at all these circuits and it’s great to have that heritage. It’s an honour to keep the Brabham name going in racing.”
Sam speaks with a maturity that belies his relative lack of experience. If he can keep improving then, along with Matthew’s progress stateside, the Brabham legacy looks to be in safe hands.