David Brabham on Allan McNish: My greatest rival

Mind manager versus tenacious talent, data-driven versus dogged – but despite David Brabham and Allan McNish's opposing styles there was always a mutual respect on the track

Motor Sports – 24h Le Mans Endurance Race 2009

This has to be my old sparring partner and lifelong rival Allan McNish. We went through the ranks together, starting in Vauxhall Lotus in ’88. I’d just arrived in England, and he and Mika [Häkkinen] were the team to beat. Then, in Formula 3 in ’89 with Bowman, Allan was my main rival for the championship with the West Surrey team. He was younger, smaller and mouthier than me. We’re two very different people [Allan says David was analytical, good on set-up and into mind management], and it was a fierce rivalry.

“We raced hard on track but we had a high level of respect for each other and the rivalry raised both our games. When you’re going for a championship against a rival like Allan you can’t leave anything on the table otherwise he’ll grab it. Both of us, I think, grew as drivers that year in F3.

“I never liked Vauxhall Lotus, thought about going home, but in ’89, with a good team in F3, I was motivated again. Early on I had a 31-point lead in the series and then Allan started to win races. We fell behind and the protests started, the teams ending up in court, and it was a big fight to the end of that season. This motivated both of us and, although there was a lot of bad feeling and conflict between the teams, we always remained friends. We never ran into each other, stuff like that.

June 14, 2009 – Le Mans, France – Winners ALEXANDER WURZ, MARC GENE, and DAVID BRABHAM, second place, STEPHANE SARRAZIN, FRANCK MONTAGNY, and SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, third place, TOM KRISTENSEN, ALLAN MCNISH, RINALDO CAPELLO, on the podium after the 24 Hours

The podium at Le Mans 2009… Brabham was first; McNish third

“In the end he was declared the winner but the court gave everyone their points back after the protests and I won the British F3 title by 10 points from Allan. We stayed on good terms. At the British Grand Prix I went round the outside of him at Copse, and 20 years later he got me back by passing me round the outside of Turn 3 at Sebring in his Audi. We still laugh about that.

“He had a year in Formula 1, with Toyota in 2002, but I had two years, with Brabham and Simtek, so I beat him on that one!

“It was in sports cars where we both made our mark and our rivalry continued.

We were both good at dicing fast through traffic and had some awesome battles in the American Le Mans Series. There were times when it could easily have gone pear-shaped but we were renowned for keeping the car on the track and that’s why we both had long sports car careers. There was respect.

That way we got the best possible results.

“Allan is doggedly determined, singleminded and he has a very natural talent.

I’m a bit more data-driven, more technical, so it was interesting the one time we shared a car, a Risi Competizione Ferrari 333 at Daytona in 2001. Suddenly we’re not rivals, we’re working as a team, combining our strengths, and we’d both got better and better as we got older.”

David Brabham and Allan McNish head-to-head

Figures taken from the 1989 British Formula 3 Championship

Brabham vs McNish
6 Wins 5
6 Poles 3
2 Fastest laps 3
11 Podiums 9
80 Points 70