Exclusive F1 Rejects Interview with


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Interview by Stephen Slater

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Gary Brabham Son of Sir Jack and brother to David and Geoff, Gary has motor racing in his blood. He suffered a tortured 80s in feeder categories, where bad luck was around every corner - but he was runner-up in British F3 and winner of the Oulton Park Gold Cup in 1988, as well as becoming the inagrual British F3000 Champion in 1989.

His solitary F1 berth, though, came with arguably the worst GP team effort in history, Life. His career never fully recovered, despite some success in the US racing sportscars (including a win at Sebring) and becoming, at the time, the only Australian to start the Gold Coast Indy Grand Prix.

In 1995 he retired from international motor racing to run advanced driver training courses. F1 Rejects' UK Correspondent Stephen Slater asked him if he would answer some questions for us about his career, and he graciously obliged! For full details of Brabham' F1 adventure, and information on his career, please see our Gary Brabham biography.

• What inspired you to become interested in motorsport?

When we moved back to Australia [from London], I learned to drive around our farmyard during my mid teens. I was also bike mad and got really excited about driving. From people's comments I realised I had some talent.
• How did you feel about the stop start nature of your career in lower categories?

Well like everyone else I had to find sponsorship which was very difficult due to the fact that I was Australian, and not many people were interested. It was made worse when I realised that they all thought my father had a bottomless pit of money. That proved very frustrating and it meant that I had a very stop start sort of early career.
• What do you remember of testing the Benetton at Jerez in 1989?

That came about because I won the Cellnet Super Prix at Brands Hatch in 1988, and the test was part of the prize. At Jerez I was due to test the active suspension system. I had originally thought it would just be the tyres that I would be testing so that was a nice surprise!!
Brabham testing the Benetton at Jerez in 1988.
• How did you get the Life drive?

After 1989 I had an opportunity to go to Japan to race. But I felt that Japan was a bit of a graveyard at that time. Of course, 1990 was the year they began plucking out drivers for F1! So instead of making a business decision and go to Japan, I made an emotional decision to get to Formula One. And the only opportunity there was the Life deal. I decided that although it would be tough and we wouldn't have much chance, at least I'd learn all the Grand Prix circuits.

I had a phone call asking if I would like to go down and have a look at the team. So I went along and met Rochi, who designed the Ferrari V12 in 1979 when Jody Scheckter won the World Championship. There was a couple of other people who were highly regarded at the team so, although I knew deep down that it was the wrong move, I decided to go for it.
• What were your first impressions of the team?

A bit amateur!! The Life car was worse than I expected when I did a couple of straight line tests in Italy, and there were many aspects of the operation that were hidden from me. But I still took it as the only opportunity.
• Were you excited about making your F1 debut at Phoenix?

Not really, because I knew we had no chance of making the grid. I did four laps of just learning the track at first. Then I decided to go for it and for the first time I put my foot down. Almost immediately the engine expired. After Phoenix I flew back to Florida to stay with my brother Geoff who was living there at the time. While I was there I got a phone call saying that there was a rumour Life wasn't even going to turn up in Brazil for the next race.
At the wheel of the Life in Brazil. Picture thanks to John Townsend.
• So what was the main problem with the Life car? The chassis or the W12 engine?

The engine really, because it just didn't last!
• How was the Brazilian experience?

Well the team had turned up for the race. But as I turned out the pits and went down the back straight it just went BANG, and I'd only completed 400 metres! The mechanics had basically gone on strike and had deliberately not put oil in the engine!! And I thought well what next, brake fluid! So that's when I decided to clear off. That was the last time I had contact with the team.

The blow of the Life being a failure was doubled when I discovered that the Brabham Formula One Team had wanted me to replace Gregor Foitek. So they rang my father up to ask if I wanted to drive for them. And Dad said "Oh no, Gary's got a contract with Life, so you'd better take David." And I hadn't had a contract with Life at all! So David went to Brabham and I took David's F3000 seat at Middlebridge. That really pissed me off!!
• You've driven so many different cars, from big sports prototypes to open wheelers, different F1 cars, touring cars at Bathurst, even trucks, which type of machine do you prefer?

I guess the cars that I enjoyed most were sportscars and I was always very easy with them. For example, at Daytona I was the only driver who could do two stints on the same set of tyres.
Racing in IMSA in 1991, Brabham behind the wheel at the Miami GP.
• Has being the son of Sir Jack Brabham been a help or a hindrance to your career?

I think at the end of the day it was probably more a hindrance than a help. I think at the beginning of my career it was a help in getting me into motorsport. But from the middle to the end of my career it was much harder for me to get to a stage where people thought it was me driving rather than the old man.
• Do you feel that driving for Life ruined your career?

Yes, it did unfortunately. I just rate that as a total disaster. Instead of doing the right thing in going to Japan, I made an emotional decision. I guess I knew deep down that it would probably be my last chance.
• What are the best and worst moments of your career?

Probably the worst part of my career was at the end of 1990, when I was finished with Middlebridge and there were no other opportunities in Europe. So I decided to go to America with virtually nothing because Middlebridge owed me a lot of money. And I was basically living from 6 to 18 months on about 6 dollars a day. The best moment would have to be winning the Oulton Park Gold Cup in F3 in 1988.
Click here to read Gary's Full Biography on our site!

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