Australia’s most successful Grand Prix driver, Sir Jack Brabham, has died peacefully today in his Gold Coast home, aged 88.
Brabham needs no introduction to motorsport fans the world over, famous for being the only competitor to win the World Driver’s Championship (WDC) in a car of his own design and bearing his name.
With the WDC now the big-business operation that is the Formula 1 class, it is unlikely Sir Jack’s record will ever be repeated.
After starting out racing on dirt tracks, it wasn’t long before Brabham moved over to begin his career in circuit racing, driving a Mark IV Cooper.
He headed to Europe in 1954, purchasing a Maserati 250 F and attempting to race and maintain the car himself; a move he later said was “too much”.
It wasn’t long before his talents were recognised however, and he found himself back behind the wheel of a Cooper to begin a long association with the team.
At the Monaco Grand Prix of 1957, Brabham proved that he could be a serious contender for World Champion, although his first Grand Prix win didn’t come until 1959 at the same circuit.
Brabham also won the British Grand Prix and amassed points in other events throughout the year in his rear-engined Cooper. He claimed his first WDC in 1959, by pushing his car over the line at the American Grand Prix to finish third when the car ran out of fuel just short of the finish.
That same race also saw the first Grand Prix victory for New Zealander Bruce McLaren, a driver whom Brabham had earlier recommended to the Cooper team (and who also went on to become a race-car designer and engineer).
Brabham went back-to-back in 1960, winning his second WDC again at the wheel of a Cooper, before taking the Climax to Indianapolis the following year, finishing ninth as a rookie and convincing the Americans that rear-engined racing cars were the future.
After parting with Cooper, Brabham turned his attention to building his own Grand Prix car, using the resources of his garage in the UK.
Lotus had begun the shift to a ‘monocoque’ design by the early 1960s, while Brabham and fellow Australian engineer Ron Tauranac decided to stick with the older but proven space-frame design.
The cars proved competitive in 1963, and the following year a Brabham car won the French Grand Prix, marking the first victory for the team.
After teaming up with Repco engine operations in Australia using the block from an Oldsmobile power plant, the Brabham Repco BT19 in the hands of Sir Jack himself won the 1966 WDC; Brabham’s third and final championship crown.
The Brabham team went back-to-back in 1967 – this time using an engine built entirely by Repco - with New Zealand driver Denny Hulme beating his team boss to the championship.
Brabham continued in Grand Prix racing for another three years, retiring at the end of the tragic 1970 season which saw young Jochen Rindt become the only posthumous WDC to date.
The team bearing his name continued on in Grand Prix racing until midway through the 1992 season, winning the 1981 championship with Nelson Piquet at the wheel. For a number of years post-1972, the Brabham team was owned by Bernie Ecclestone.
An attempt to revive the Brabham Team name for the 2010 season was unsuccessful.
Brabham remained active in motorsport and was a regular figure at the Australian Grand Prix and at historic racing events. He also returned to the wheel from time to time following his retirement from international racing.
A famously unsuccessful tilt on the Bathurst 1000 in 1976 with Sir Stirling Moss as co-driver and his 1992 Targa Tasmania and 1995 Bathurst 12-Hour drives – both in a Honda NSX - being just three of the forays.
A plaque depicting his career now stands at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, unveiled by Sir Jack and 1980 WDC Alan Jones in November last year.
Sir Jack also cut the ribbon at the unveiling of the ‘Sir Jack Brabham Annexe’ at the Victorian Historic Racing Register’s club rooms in December last year; the place where his BT19 is currently on display.
Brabham always considered himself a mechanic and an engineer, at least equal to - if not surpassing - his ability as a driver.
Sir Jack earned the title ‘Sir’ in 1978, becoming the first post-war driver to receive a knighthood. He was Australian Of The Year in 1966 and was also recognised as a ‘National Treasure’ in 2012.
Following his death, the family today released a statement thanking those who have offered their support and condolences.
“It’s a very sad day for all of us. My father passed away peacefully at home at the age of 88 this morning. He lived an incredible life, achieving more than anyone would ever dream of and he will continue to live on through the astounding legacy he leaves behind,” Sir Jack’s youngest son and fellow racer, David Brabham, said.
Sir Jack Brabham is survived by his wife Lady Margaret, his sons Geoff, Gary and David and their families.
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Some images in this piece via jackbrabham.com