22 May 2014

Sir Jack Brabham: 1926-2014

Jack Brabham, the first Australian to win the World Driving Championship, died peacefully in his home on May 19, 2014. He was 88 years old.

From the age of 6, Brabham was involved with anything mechanical. He learned about automotive engineering in night school, prior to joining the Royal Australian Air Force. Following his discharge in 1946, he became interested in midget, or “speed car” racing, as it was known Down Under. An American friend, Johnny Schonberg, persuaded Brabham to build his own midget.

 In such a machine, Brabham won the Australian Speedway Championship in 1948, ’49, 50 and ’51. This type of racing turned out smart, aggressive drivers, and Brabham was no exception. In fact, in 1953, went on to win the Australian Hill-climb title.

In 1955, Brabham headed for England, where he started wheeling Peter Whitehead’s somewhat unreliable Cooper-Alta. However, his performance in the machine drew the attention of car-builder John Cooper, who offered Brabham the facilities to construct his own racer. This was the start of his long and successful association with Cooper. In ’57, he joined Cooper’s works team.

In 1959, Brabham’s rear-engine Cooper won the Monaco Grand Prix. He backed this up with a convincing win in the British Grand Prix and took the World Championship.

Bragham’s success continued in 1960, when he and his Cooper won the Dutch, Belgian, French, British and Portuguese Grande Epreuves to win the championship again.

In 1961, Brabham and John Cooper came to Indianapolis with a 2-7-liter racer.  Although the car was underpowered compared to the Indy roadsters, Brabham made a fine showing finish a very credible ninth place. The performance sparked the beginning of the “march to the rear.” It wasn’t long before every competitive car at Indy was rear-engine.

By 1962, Brabham left Cooper, with the idea of building his own Formula One cars. As usual, the racers had teething problems. However, by the end of the season Jack had the car in hand, taking a fine second in the Mexican Grand Prix.

By 1966, Brabham had designed, built and was driving his world-beating BT19.  The machine carried Jack to victory in the French, British, German and Dutch GPs.  These successes brought him a third Driver’s Championship. It was the first and only time a driver, in a car of his own manufacturer, had driven to the title. The achievement earned Brabham a Knighthood, which he may have seen as a fitting way to round out his illustrious career; in 1970, at age 44, Sir Jack retired from the cockpit.

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