Does Le Mans beckon for Brabham?by Jack Phillips on 27th June 2018
Brabham's return with the BT62 hypercar could herald bigger and better things, considering the WEC's new regulations
Timing is paramount and David Brabham knows that more than most, given his Brabham Automotive project’s long but well-timed journey to fruition.
Twelve difficult years. That's how long it took him to reclaim his family's name. Then, a crowdfunding campaign drew just shy of £300,000. While not enough to race in LMP2, it allowed Brabham to continue his campaign in order to revive the name.
Timing-wise, missing out on LMP2 appears to have been a blessing in disguise as Brabham – then in conversation with Ligier – would have been in bed with the wrong manufacturer. The vibrant and varied LMP2 category was about to be streamlined down to four chassis options and just one engine, and it was Oreca that monopolised the front of most grids; an expensive bullet was dodged.
Brabham’s secretive but now tangible project, the BT62, has been out of the bag since May and its timing couldn’t have been better.
The car was on display at Le Mans in front of Michelin’s hospitality, on the same weekend the ACO and FIA announced the WEC's new regulations. “That was a coincidence,” says Brabham. “Obviously not all of the details came out but we got a bit of a snapshot. Everyone was keen to hear what the ACO has to say.”
At the heart of the sparse rules outline was hypercar stylings. Not that teams will be fielding hypercars themselves, but prototypes that resemble marquee brands’ top-line machines with hybrids plugged in – potentially straight off the shelf.
And Brabham, of course, is now a hypercar manufacturer.
“Bringing the WEC more into line with hypercars and more relevant is a good thing, how it pans out we’ll see. It’s a snapshot for us to look into.”
The FIA and ACO did appear to decide on one thing: a carrot to draw in new manufacturers as budgets are hoped to be cut to a quarter of what they are now.
Brabham, while hopeful, seems sceptical. “I’d be interested to see how they think they’ll be able to afford it,” he admits.
“Capping is the hardest part for any series. The intention is there and people are starting to realise series can’t run things the same way and that it’s not sustainable. They need to think of the big picture, but it sounds like the steps are being taken towards that.”
The Braham BT62, of which 70 will be made, won’t be the basis should Brabham take the plunge into sports car racing. That will be “the next variant”. And racing is explicitly the plan, but whether that is as prototype manufacturer or into the GT field is unclear.
“We need to analyse it. Whatever we do we need to be competitive and commercially viable. There’s a lot of thinking that needs to go into it and how that affects our vehicles moving forward. It’s good to start the ball rolling, but it’s far too early to make that call.”
Revised regulations could come in too soon for some manufacturers, in fact. The ‘superseason’ format means the new cars, whatever form they take, will need to be hitting the track as of next August for the opening round of the season.
- Brabham launches BT62 hypercar
- WEC outlines post-2020 prototype regulations
- What lies ahead in WEC's new era
And, publicly at least, the regulations are yet to take any kind of shape and won’t be ratified until October 12, 2018, at the earliest, when the World Motor Sports Council next meets.
“My gut tells me it will be more 2021 than ’20 that you’ll see these cars,” says Brabham. “Maybe there’ll be some hybrid-type format for the 2020 season. It’s too early to commit to anything. Even for manufacturers with massive resources, the first race will be a challenge.”
Brabham, should it be involved, won’t be ‘farming it out to any privateers’, either. It will be a full works effort, with Brabham not ruling himself out of the line-up. “I’ve never announced a retirement. It’s been kept open because a lot of friends have and then returned.
“Being involved with the development of the BT62 keeps me sharp. I feel I haven’t lost that much, but obviously, I’m not in regular competition. In terms of driving fast enough to be on the limit and give the engineers the necessary feedback, I’m comfortable with where I am.”
He’s leading an international group of drivers pushing on the BT62’s development. Who's in that team of drivers is secret, Brabham being unmoved and refusing any mention of others. He confirms it was 'A N Other' who set the unofficial lap record around Phillip Island recently, and not Brabham himself.
Keeping secrets is something Brabham and those involved in the project are clearly good at. The car launched to a public very much in the dark, and few in the industry knew exactly what was going on.
“How we kept it a secret was a miracle, don’t ask me how! In today’s world that’s almost impossible so we achieved something remarkable. That really added to the impact, and it wasn’t ‘this is what we want to do’ it was ‘this is what we’ve done to date’, which was really important.”
As a result, the public, media and – more importantly – prospective owners from around the world have had their interest piqued.
“Deposits are coming in, more and more slots are being taken, our sales guy is flat out. We can’t complain, with the start we’ve had from the press and buyers. We’ve just got to build on the momentum. So far it’s been a great start.”