I could hear my name being called, but it was tricky to pinpoint the source. There was plentiful ambient noise, with mechanics priming cars ahead of the FIA European Rallycross Championship’s pre-season test, but it eventually became obvious that the voice belonged to the deep, fur-trimmed hood of a thickly padded jacket. There had to be a face in there, somewhere.
As I approached, the familiar features of Kenny Bräck became gradually more distinguishable. It’s not often that you bump into an Indianapolis 500 winner in the paddock at Lydden Hill, but Bräck knows quite a few rallycross folk and thought he’d pop along to say hello.
The Swede lives in the UK nowadays, in Berkshire, and plans to continue competing in historic events this season – something he has done with distinction in the recent past. He has won the occasional rally and in 2011 shared the TT Celebration-winning Shelby Daytona Cobra with Tom Kristensen, during the Goodwood Revival Meeting.
For the last six seasons, Bräck has provided support and counsel for compatriot Marcus Ericsson – a GP2 race winner who is about to embark upon his fourth year in the category after signing for DAMS, title winner in 2011 and 2012. “That has been an interesting project,” he says, “but I’m no longer directly involved. I think I’ve done all I can for Marcus and look forward to seeing how he progresses.”
Bräck has some business interests in Sweden, but is able to live adequately on the money he made racing in America, where he was based for several years. I mention the 1997 Indianapolis 500, where he picked up a six-figure pay cheque despite crashing on the warm-up lap. “True,” he says, “but I’d had to spend a whole month there to earn it – and most of the time it was fairly terrifying.
“It was my first experience of the circuit, so I didn’t know much about the ideal chassis set-up, and my engineer was a rookie, too. The car kept doing all sorts of strange things, leaping around at about 230mph. As I left the track every day I felt a real sense of relief that I was still in one piece, but the following morning I’d have to go through it all again.”
Despite such apprehensions he qualified 15th, in the top half of the field, short though his race would be. “Stéphan Grégoire, who lined up on the inside, got up a little high during the parade laps,” he says. “That compromised Affonso Giaffone, in the middle, and all three of us ended up in the wall – the whole fifth row wiped out before the start.”
One year later Bräck qualified on the front row and finished sixth – part of a successful campaign that led to the Indy Racing League title – and in 1999 he won the 500. He remained at the forefront of American single-seater racing until the end of 2003, when he suffered serious injuries in a violent accident at Texas Motor Speedway. It would be 18 months before he raced again – and he made his comeback at Indy. He emerged as fastest qualifier – at 227.598mph – although he started only 22nd, having not achieved that speed until the third day of qualifying (and Indy methodology dictates that pole is determined on the first). He retired from the race and, subsequently, decided to call time on the single-seater mainstream.
Thus ended the career of a racer who was every bit as approachable as he was committed. Mostly, anyway. In 1995, though, I sought Bräck to discuss his performance during a round of the FIA Formula 3000 Championship at Estoril. Heavy security was seldom a paddock feature, but on this occasion my progress was blocked by a couple of bouncers who were almost as wide as the Madgwick Motorsport team’s awning. A friendly engineer swiftly secured my passage and I entered to find his driver discussing lap times with the King of Sweden…
Bräck flirted briefly with F1 – in 1993 he had a productive test in a Williams-Renault, part of his prize for success at the wheel of a Clio, and three years later he spent time as an Arrows reserve – but realised there were other ways to forge a perfectly good career. He came away with a splendid CV and a pronounced limp, a legacy of October 12 2003 at the Texas Motor Speedway.
“That’s fine,” he says. “I’m 45 now, so I’m not supposed to look new.”