UPDATED: Matthew Brabham completes first KV test in preparation for Indy 500

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Typically, when a rookie has his first IndyCar test, it’s usually only big news to him, his team and his family.

But when your grandfather was a two-time Formula One champion and your father was a noted racer himself, it’s not surprising that Matthew Brabham’s first IndyCar test with his new team Tuesday drew great attention and interest.

Driving one of Sebastien Bourdais’ chassis, Brabham was at Sebring International Raceway Tuesday to test with PIRTEK Team Murray, which has a technical alliance with KVSH Racing, Bourdais’ full-time team.

Brabham’s car wears the No. 61, which isaan homage to the year (1961) his grandfather began the shift to rear-engine power at Indianapolis. The younger Brabham completed 134 laps around the 1.67-mile road course

“What an awesome day,” Brabham said in a media release. “To arrive at the track at 7 am this morning and see the car in PIRTEK Team Murray branding really brought home that this whole program is real.

“These cars are obviously a lot more physical to drive than open wheels cars I have been used to in the past and it was a typical hot Florida day, but apart from being a little stiff in the neck, which is to be expected, I feel great.”

Brown and Brabham. Photo: PIRTEK Team Murray
Brown and Brabham. Photo: PIRTEK Team Murray

Engineer Andy Brown praised Brabham’s skills in Tuesday’s test.

“You would not have believed he has driven these cars as little as he has,” Brown said. “His feedback has been detailed and very clear and precise, which is only going to serve us well and place us in good stead as we move forward into the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the 500.

“He has hardly put a foot wrong all day and we have made some really good progress, so I am looking forward to the next couple of events. Inexperience can catch you out on days like today, but he seems to have an old head on young shoulders.

“I think he is one of those exceptional talents whose inexperience may not work against him – and may actually help him because he has that youthful enthusiasm. He just wants to get after it and go faster. We certainly have no trouble getting him in the car or keeping him in the car. He wants to be out there.”

Not only was Tuesday’s test special for Brabham, it also was for Brown, a Indy 500 veteran.

“Adding the Brabham name to my CV (resume) is very much a privilege and honor and then there is the 100th Indy 500 itself,” Brown said. “The race has been a big part of my life since I went there for the first time and won it in 1992.

“I have been back virtually every year since and to be there this year with a Brabham really is the icing on the cake.”

Brabham made a seat fit on Monday, and has previously tested with Andretti Autosport, both at Sonoma and Iowa last year.

“Matt did an exceptionally professional job and the support from the KVSH Racing guys was first class,” PIRTEK Team Murray owner Brett “Crusher” Murray. “I was delighted with how quickly Matt and Andy Brown became a cohesive unit. It was like they have been working together for years.

“To get 134 laps of running, produce some good speed and come away without a scratch on the car really is close to a perfect result. It was great to have Matt’s dad Geoff looking on from the pit lane and I am sure Sir Jack (Brabham) had a smile on his face somewhere.”

The younger Brabham’s test was in preparation for his IndyCar debut – at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, arguably the toughest place on earth to start the next chapter of your racing career – his first career IndyCar start in next month’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis in a couple of weeks, followed two weeks later with his hope of qualifying for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Brabham finished fourth as a rookie in the Indy Lights Series in 2014, after winning the Pro Mazda (2013) and USF2000 (2012) titles the two years previous. He had high hopes for 2015, but funding kept him to just three starts in IndyCar’s junior circuit.

Now he’s ready for the biggest race of his career to date.

Matthew’s grandfather, Sir Jack Brabham, made four starts in the Indianapolis 500, with a best finish of ninth in his rookie start there in 1961.

Matthew’s father, Geoff Brabham, made 10 starts in the Indy 500, with his two best finishes being a fifth place showing in his rookie race there in 1981, and a career-best fourth in 1983.

Matthew is hoping to become only the third third-generation driver to race at Indianapolis, with the Brabham family joining the Andretti and Vukovich name as a third-generation driver competing there.

Tuesday’s test also had some strong sentiment to it. Sebring is where Matthew won his first race in North America in 2012 in USF2000 competition.

It’s also the same track where his grandfather pushed his car over the finish line to win the 1959 Formula One World Championship — the first of what would be three for the late Sir Jack — as well as where father Geoff and uncle David enjoyed sports car racing success in their respective careers, as well.

“I have always liked Sebring and obviously my family has some great history here, so to come through the day without any issues and 134 laps under my belt ticks a big box for us.

“I wish I was doing it every day, but I have to wait a couple of weeks before I am back in the car and I am already counting down the days.”

Check out some posts from social media on Brabham’s big day on Tuesday:

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INDYCAR’S contract at Laguna Seca not affected by new track management

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INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports.com that INDYCAR’s season-ending race at WeatherTech Raceway in Monterey, California is not in any type of jeopardy after Monterey County officials sought a new management company for the Laguna Seca facility.

After 62 years of continuous management of the Laguna Seca Raceway, the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) was advised via email by County of Monterey Assistant County Administrative Officer (ACAO) Dewayne Woods last month. The email said, “…the County is now in negotiations with another proposer for management services at Laguna Seca Recreational Area.”

At a November 19 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, a proposal centered on Monterey County’s direct management of the Raceway and Recreation Area.  The Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to have a management group led by Monterey businessman John Narigi take over for SCRAMP.

The NTT IndyCar Series returned to Laguna Seca in September for the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. It was the first time IndyCar had competed at Laguna Seca since September 12, 2004 after it had been a regular on the CART schedule from 1983 to 2004.

NBC Sports.com asked Miles if the new management group would impact the multi-year contract at the picturesque road course near Monterey, California.

“I’m happy to answer that,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “We have following the situation closely for several months. At this point, we don’t have any concerns. Our sanctioning agreement is with the county and not was not with SCRAMP. The county is excited about the event and looking forward to the next edition in 2020.

“The county has appointed a new management team for the operation of the facility. There is plenty of work to do on their part and on our part to make sure they understand the requirements for the event and to make sure they execute well.

“The event is certainly going on. The financial underpinnings and the contractual obligations are between us and the county. They think they have selected the best possible management team and we look forward to working with them.”

Miles said INDYCAR vice president of promoter and media partner relations Stephen Starks has been working directly with the new management group at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

“The agreement is between us and the county and the county is absolutely comitted and excited about the future, they have appointed a new management team at Laguna Seca, and we look forward to working with them,” Miles said.

INDYCAR officials believe the series return to Laguna Seca was very successful in terms of promotion and spectator turnout.

“We were really pleased,” Miles said. “I think we under-estimated how outstanding it is both for the race and for the venue and the region. I thought it was better than we expected but it bodes well for the future.

“We’re going to be looking at how to take better advantage of it in the promotion of the series.

“There is plenty of room for growth and they will find ways to manage that from a traffic perspective,” Miles said. “We thought it was a great success. We think it can be even bigger. We have the commitment of the county and look forward to working with the new management team.”

Miles and INDYCAR are optimistic of continued success at WeatherTech Raceway with new management. However, the decision to end a 62-year relationship with SCRAMP was a surprise.

“This news comes as a surprise to the SCRAMP organization,” said Tim McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and SCRAMP, who took over the position in June 2018. “We were starting to make real progress on getting the facility and the raceway operations turned around and poised for the future, but it appears at this time we may not have the opportunity to see these plans through.”

SCRAMP believed the Monterey County Board of Supervisors denied the chance for it to continue with its plan.

“As the existing facility operator, we were stunned by the fact that we were not provided the opportunity to discuss our proposal with the ACAO,” McGrane said. “The entire process has been unconventional, ranging from the bypassing of the County’s usual Request For Proposal (RFP) process, the announcement in mid-October requesting proposals from any interested parties with only two weeks’ notice, and complaints that SCRAMP had not met deadlines to submit a proposal when in fact a submission date had been agreed upon in May, and subsequently met, has been challenging.

“We have been in this position before with the County administration, but we, our fans, racing series and teams, do have to look at the possibility of the era of SCRAMP operating Laguna Seca Raceway coming to an end.”

In 2015, Monterey County began private talks with International Speedway Corporation (ISC) who, after a careful review of the operational parameters of the facility, determined not to submit a formal proposal for management of the track. In 2016, the Monterey County Administrators Office entered into negotiations with another group to replace SCRAMP for 2017 but were unable to agree to terms that were mutually acceptable. The County then reverted back to a three-year agreement with SCRAMP to continue running Laguna Seca.

According to a statement from SCRAMP, in 2018, the SCRAMP-run Laguna Seca Raceway attracted 263,888 attendees and generated $84.4 million in direct spending generated by event attendees over 26 days of the seven major events. 2019 saw SCRAMP orchestrate the long-awaited and highly successful return of IndyCars to Laguna Seca, with a larger than anticipated spectator count for the weekend.

2019 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

“We’ve delivered an extensive, forward-looking proposal to the County for a new, long-term 20-year management and operating agreement that incorporates solid plans for revenue generation and expense reduction, expansion of the use of existing facilities, and development of Laguna Seca into a world-class destination,” said CEO McGrane. “We are building the right team, both paid staff and volunteers, with extensive motorsports experience, institutional knowledge, and the dedication to lead this important Monterey County asset into a successful future. We hope we still have the opportunity to present our plans directly to the County Board of Supervisors and we would be proud to continue SCRAMP’s 62-year stewardship of Laguna Seca on behalf of Monterey County.”

The Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, a 501(c)4 not-for-profit, was formed in 1957 by local business owners and civic leaders. SCRAMP’s goal was to raise the funds needed to construct a permanent motor racing circuit to maintain the tradition of sports car racing on the Monterey Peninsula which had begun in 1950 in the Del Monte Forest at Pebble Beach. SCRAMP is comprised of a Board of Governors, Race and Events Committees, and hundreds of loyal volunteers who donate thousands of hours each year to ensure the successful operation of events here.

The SCRAMP organization acquired leased land from the US Army at Fort Ord on August 7, 1957, and the now-legendary track, built with funds raised by SCRAMP, held its first race, the 8th Annual Pebble Beach at Laguna Seca SCCA National Championship Sports Car Road Races, on November 9 & 10, 1957. In 1974 the site was transferred from the Army to Monterey County, who together with SCRAMP, have managed the facility through this year.

SCRAMP’s current three-year management and operating agreement with Monterey County ends on December 31, 2019. SCRAMP currently employs a full-time professional staff of just over 40 team members.

INDYCAR, itself, is about to have an ownership change as racing and business icon Roger Penske and the Penske Corporation completes its acquisition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500, INDYCAR and IMS Productions sometime after January 1. Miles and the INDYCAR staff as well as the staffs at IMS and IMS Productions will be retained.

Miles will become CEO of Penske Entertainment and will continue his duties that he currently has. Since the sale was announced on November 4, Miles and key officials have met with Penske and his top officials on a weekly basis.

“It’s been great,” Miles said. “We are covering tons of ground. Roger and his team are all about adding value.

“It’s a very focused effort that is making great progress.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500