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Jack Brabham

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
19/05/2014

Jack Brabham is perhaps the most under-rated of all drivers, yet he won three World Championships, and nearly a fourth in his retirement season. He took 14 World Championship victories and 15 non-Championship F1 races. He is the only driver to win the World F1 Championship and European F2 Championship in the same year and the only driver to win the World Championship in a car bearing his name.

Jochen Rindt won 31 Formula Two races and that, most people agree, was the true mark of his talent since all the top drivers competed and the cars were closely matched. Jim Clark won 13 F2 races, but Brabham won 27. It's true Jack had a longer career than either Rindt or Clark, but there was no Formula Two, 1961-64, and Jack didn't compete in the class during the last three years of his career.

In 1966, Jack had a Honda engine which powered him to 10 of those 27 F2 wins, and that is often said to be luck, but luck had nothing to do with it. Jack was the shrewdest operator there has been, he organised his career like no other driver.

Jack was the first modern driver to establish his own team, the Brabham Racing Organisation. At the time, he drove for Cooper and BRO entered races that Cooper did not. Over the winter of 1959/60, he persuaded his old friend, Ron Tauranac, to leave a secure job and to move his young family to England. Ron had designed and built a series of specials (called Ralts) so it was a bit like Lewis Hamilton setting up a new team with a pal who'd designed Formula Ford cars. Jack knew his man, however, and says, "I wouldn't have done it with anyone else."

While Jack was on his way to his second World Championship, Ron devised tuning kits, engineered the Herald-Climax that Jack's garage sold, and established Motor Racing Developments. The MRD-1, a 1961 Formula Junior car, was an immediate success, then Jabby Crombac pointed out that, in France, MRD was pronounced merde. The cars were renamed Brabham.

BRO was a customer of MRD in Formula One. Jack did not drive a works Brabham, 1962-65, BRO bought customer cars and run them in a separate factory. BRO was not always even the first to get the latest cars because Tauranac operated on a 'first come, first served' basis. Jack did, however, get special attention when it came to uprating the cars and, as a partner with Ron in MRD, he was active there as well.

Ron Tauranac says, "In the early days, Jack'd do all the most difficult machining." He would also help customers set up their cars and, once, seeing that a Brabham customer had no idea how to drive a circuit, he taught the guy the lines.

When Honda bought a Cooper prior to its entry to Formula One, the Weber carburettors baffled their engineers. Jack interrupted one of his trips home to show them how it should be done. The fledgling Honda team was knocked out by the fact that the World Champion made the effort and, after they had seen him at work, they were devotees for life.

When Honda decided to enter car racing, they approached Lotus to build an F1 car and Jack to run an F2 team. Colin Chapman received a mock-up of the Honda F1 engine and sat on it, to delay Honda's entry to F1 and to wind up Coventry Climax. Chapman was crossed off Honda's Christmas card list but, to this day, Brabham and Tauranac are consultants to Honda.

Jack ran an F2 Honda engine in 1965 and, for the first race he qualified nine seconds off the pace. Instead of throwing his toys out of the pram, he taught the small band of engineers how to go motor racing and the engineers included two future Presidents of Honda, Tadashi Kume and Nobuhiko Kawamoto. At the last race, he took pole and finished second, just 0.6 seconds behind Clark's Lotus.

Brabham and Tauranac then told Honda precisely what sort of engine to build - the first had been 'peaky', top heavy and the shape made it impossible to install harmoniously. Honda responded and delivered an entirely new unit within a few months. Tadashi Kume says, "Jack and Ron taught us how to win races."

That is why Jack won ten races with a Honda-Brabham. It was not luck, it was Jack's integrity and engineering input that turned Honda from a makeweight into a winner. In fact, it could have been 11 wins because he spun out of the lead at Rouen. All the race reports say that his gear lever came off in his hand, but Nobuhiko Kawamoto reveals the true story. "Before the race I received a call from Mr Honda who was concerned that the engines were lasting so long that we were not learning anything. He wanted us to run an engine until it broke so I built one with a used crankshaft and bearings.

"Jack-san did not finish the race, the engine seized five laps from the end and he spun. He walked back to the pits and we were apprehensive, thinking that he would be angry. Jack-san, however, smiled and pulled the gear lever out of his pocket so everyone, including the journalists, thought that he retired because of the gear lever.

"He did it to protect Honda. He was a demanding man, a hard man to work for, but he had a great heart."

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by yagijd, 20/05/2014 17:55

"I first met Jack Brabham at Ardmore New Zealand where my father was Professor of Engineering at Auckland University which was based at Ardmore. Apparently Jack had a bad Cluster shaft on his Maybach Special and he and my dad worked all night redesigning and manufacturing a new shaft. Later we moved to Sydney where I worked at Repco Engineering and I met him many times after that. He was a first class practical joker. At a Tasman race he was standing next to the Ferrari pit giving a press interview. The Ferrari mechanics were in a complete state of disarray looking for lost bolts. After the press meeting Jack moved away and he had been standing on the lost bolts. He looked down and said with a wicked smile " I wonder if they were looking for these". We were so proud of his achievements. Someone else worth mentioning is another of his collaborators Phil Irving Of Repco, Another Genius. "

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2. Posted by DoctosDad, 20/05/2014 12:39

"Chris Lawrence, long time club and Morgan racer, had a brief dabble with an F1 career in 1966. His Crown wheel and pinion failed in practice and when the replacement arrived late in the evening before the race, Chris found it was 60 thou too wide to fit. Late at night, in a virtually empty paddock, Chris found Jack working on his own car in the Brabham truck. Brabham had a small lathe in the truck and turned the offending part down allowing Chris to start the race. They were different times and different people."

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3. Posted by jasman, 20/05/2014 0:56

"Thank you Mike. You clarification of F1 genealogy from years back is very helpful in understanding the history of the sport."

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4. Posted by ESTMPRFT, 19/05/2014 13:50

"As always, an excellent and insightful article from Mike on one of the greats. One small addition, Sir 'Black Jack' is often and rightfully given credit for initiating the rear engine reveloution at the Indy 500. Although it had been tried before, his attempt really turned the design of the cars around."

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5. Posted by TokyoAussie, 19/05/2014 12:14

"That was a really good read. "

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6. Posted by ScottC, 19/05/2014 12:07

"RIP Jack Brabham. That is a great article Mike - Jack is one of those early champions that I'm not so familiar with and this has made me want to read more. I was aware that Ron Dennis was a mechanic but had no idea about the future Honda top men. I can't think of many (if any) other driver who had mechanics who went on to such great things and that possibly says something about the man in addition to his success on the track.


"

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