Although he won’t be making his debut in the Verizon IndyCar Series until mid-May, Matthew Brabham is still fully preparing for the moment and helping to count down the days until it happens.
History is a big part of the effort Brabham, the 22-year-old Australian American third generation driver who’ll suit up in the No. 61 PIRTEK Team Murray Chevrolet in a technical partnership with KV Racing Technology. He turns 22 today.
The team, founded by veteran Australian PR ace Brett “Crusher” Murray, will give Brabham a landing home to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, the late Sir Jack Brabham, and his father Geoff Brabham in the Indianapolis 500.
Provided Brabham qualifies for the 100th edition of the race, and the first presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, he’ll etch his family’s surname along with Andretti and Vukovich as those who have had three generations in the race.
In the interim, he’s also been part of the celebrations to mark the 100-Day Countdown to the 100th running of the race.
Brabham joined Helio Castroneves, Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden as Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO, Doug Boles, the Mayor of Indianapolis Joe Hogsett and Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson celebrated the 100 days to go milestone at the Indiana Statehouse. The event was part of a series of events in Indianapolis and at the New York Stock Exchange that started on the Yard of Bricks at Midnight local time to mark the 100 days to go.
The immediate concern is figuring out his testing program, which will mark his first time back in an IndyCar since the one-off day he had with Andretti Autosport last August at Sonoma Raceway.
“We don’t have a full program in terms of dates yet, but we do have some plans,” Brabham told NBC Sports during IndyCar Media Day in Indianapolis earlier this month.
“There will be a couple days in a simulator, and we’re just waiting to hear dates. A couple days before the month of May with the Angie’s List Grand Prix and the 500. It’ll probably be Florida at some point. The team, KV is figuring out some stuff it’s doing. But we’ll have a couple runs in the car before we’re fully underway.
“I’ve been into KV, talked to Olivier (Boisson, Sebastien Bourdais engineer), and they seem really nice. It’s all in the works.”
Brabham’s engineer is yet to be publicly revealed ahead of the effort. Strong results at either or both of the races could provide for future starts, while Brabham noted the key will be determining the value from a marketing and commercial side to extend his drives beyond just Indianapolis.
“Good results help, but the goal is to create a big buzz around what we’re doing,” said Brabham, who’s worked diligently to promote the effort in both Australia and North America. “We need to get a lot of people interested, and that gets some more partners, sponsors involved and makes some people happy.”
Brabham was arguably the hottest prospect in the Mazda Road to Indy for a two-year period in 2012 and 2013, when he won a combined 17 races (4 USF2000, 13 Pro Mazda) en route to both series championships and successive Mazda Scholarships. But a challenging 2014 season in Indy Lights followed, and 2015 saw Brabham in a variety of roles but never in anything full-time.
The time out of a full-time seat provided Brabham an opportunity to soul search and get even stronger from the various different disciplines of motorsport.
“You can’t win everything, because you don’t learn too much,” Brabham explained. “Indy Lights was character building. I had some tough times. But with other things and just doing everything, Formula E, Super Trucks and what have you, I’m getting a feel for more things and bringing them together.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been in an open-wheel car. But I had a good couple runs with Andretti, and I’m feeling confident I can get in and go.”
Brabham will also be part of at least a three-driver rookie class, along with fellow MRTI veteran Spencer Pigot and former Marussia Formula 1 driver Max Chilton.
For Brabham and Pigot, who along with Conor Daly all seem to be arriving in IndyCar at the right time, it’s somewhat coincidental they’ll both be rookies in the 100th Indianapolis 500 in the same year.
“We had a crazy year in USF2000,” Brabham said of Pigot. “We’d always been rivals. It didn’t matter the year or series. We were close. We had similar paths, fighting out in Mazda Road to Indy.
“It’s pretty ironic that, now you mentioned that, from that IRP oval race (in 2012) and then the next year, in Pro Mazda, it was me and him again. Now for rookie-of-the-year, I didn’t foresee it, but it’s cool. We joked at Cape (Motorsports) we’d be racing together the whole way, and now we are.”