Matthew Brabham, or, as he’s often referred to, “Matty Brabs”, has a pretty interesting racing family tree. His father, Geoff Brabham, is a Le Mans and International Race of Champions winner who also made 10 Indy 500 starts. His uncle David has likewise won Le Mans, and his uncle Gary also raced extensively in open wheel and sports cars. His grandfather, Sir Jack Brabham, is a three-time Formula One champion, a key catalyst in the rear-engine revolution at Indianapolis, and an all-around racing legend.
That might sound like a pretty big legacy to live up to, but so far, Matthew is doing plenty to keep that excellent racing tradition alive. He won the USF2000 Championship as a rookie in 2012, and signed with Andretti Autosport for the 2013 Pro Mazda Series season. He’s won three of four races so far this year, and seems poised to continue his speedy climb up the Mazda Road to Indy.
Brabham called into INDYCAR Nation from Mid-Ohio Sports Car course, where he’s currently testing as part of his Pro Mazda season. For our Q&A, the 19 year-old racing scion covered his development on Mazda Road to Indy, life in the Andretti Autosport organization, and coming from a famous racing background.
Thanks for making time for INDYCAR Nation, Matt. Congrats on the great start to your Pro Mazda season. Obviously, it’s started off really well, but how’s that transition working from USF2000 to Pro Mazda?
Matthew Brabham: It’s been a quite reasonable transition—the biggest thing is just the change in power, and getting used to it. It’s definitely tough when you first get into it, and the power makes it more fun, but I guess it makes it more challenging as well. I’m sure it’s different for everybody as they transition between different cars, but for me it’s just power. I've been able to get over that hurdle, and obviously it’s been going great so far. I couldn't ask for more—it’s been a fantastic start to the season.
You mentioned power as one of the variables a driver deals with when moving up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. From a driver’s point of view, what are some of the other adjustments to make to a Pro Mazda car?
MB: I’d say the grip levels aren't too different, but the initial torque it has off the corners is tough to get used to. With the USF2000 car, there’s such lower speed and power you can sort of hit the throttle flat-out halfway through the corner and just wait for the engine to slowly pull off, whereas if I did that in the rotary engine Mazda, it would just light up the rear tires and you’d go spinning off the track. So we have to be way more patient with the throttle and power than in the USF2000 cars. That’s probably the biggest challenge. Personally, I thought the grip wasn’t too bad to get used too, and the shifting was easy, but just learning with the engine power was probably the toughest bit, and learning to be patient.
With you joining Andretti Autosport for this season, can you tell us a bit of what the culture is like over there? It’s a name and team that’s famous and has seemingly had success all over the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. What’s your experience been like?
MB: It’s been fantastic; the guys have been really nice, I get along with them, and I could say it’s been perfect so far. It’s something I haven’t been used to, because I’ve always with smaller teams than Andretti. Seeing their shop for the first time, and knowing they have teams across all the series, was a big eye-opener for me, especially since I come from Australia, where the teams and shops are generally much smaller.
It’s sort of helpful, because there’s so many people involved in their business you can use as a resource. All the IndyCar guys come down and help and talk, which is great, because you’re part of this group that’s in all these series with all this experience. They’re very professional, top to bottom.
You mentioned racing in Australia. What’s the racing scene like over there? The average race fan here might know about V8 Supercars and Will Power, but fill us in on what it’s like to be a racer in Australia.
MB: Well, I think the racing is just not as big over in Australia as it is in America. In America, the only main series we have is the V8 Supercars. Because that’s really the only major series there, it does really, really well, but it just doesn’t have the diversity of racing here in America. So if you stay there, the only goal you can truly have is V8 Supercars. There are various steps you take to get there, but it’s just downscaled overall from the USA. There aren't as many folks at the races, even though it’s a good atmosphere. We see a lot of racers try to make it overseas, and if they don’t, come back and run V8 Supercars.
Having said that, a lot of the V8 guys doing really, really well are folks I raced in Formula Ford, such as Mitch Evans and a few others, have really excelled. It’s cool to see that one little area of Australia, the Formula Ford guys, moving up and excelling. But really, that’s the reason I moved over here, is that the racing just wasn’t as popular as it is here.
Let’s go back to diversity in racing for a minute. Are you looking forward to the oval portion of the Pro Mazda Schedule, including this month’s Night Before The 500?
MB: Definitely. I had such a bad perception of ovals, coming from road racing in Australia. I thought they were just going around in circles, and so last year, I wasn’t looking forward to it, and didn’t get what it would be like. I did the one oval race in USF2000 last year, and I have to say that was probably the most fun race I had all year. It’s weird—it’s such a new and different type of racing, so different from circuits, and it was so challenging and new that I found it really exciting. I’d have to say that at the moment, ovals are one of my new favorite types of track. We get to do the Night Before Indy, and Milwaukee, so I’m sure it’ll be great.
I also saw the Indy 500 live for the first time last year, and it absolutely blew me away. So I’m really excited to watch that again this year!
If we’re talking about the Indy 500, we probably need to bring up some famous relatives you have that have been a big part of that race. When your family gets together, how much of that discussion is about open wheel racing and where your career might be headed?
MB: Absolutely. I kind of grew up with Christmas dinners where my grandfather [Jack] and my dad [Geoff] would tell stories—and even my mom raced, so listening to them talk and their tales about their racing careers and how much fun they had was a big factor in me wanting to do it. I wanted to have some of those experiences and stories and memories of my own. Oh, and my granddad, he’s got all these stories about before pit lane speed limits, flying past at 200 miles per hour, and it sounded like they had so much excitement and fun. I’d love to follow in their footsteps!
Do you think Grandpa might let you bust out that 1961 Cooper Climax and take her for a spin?
MB: You know, they actually had his old car under the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, and I got to sit in it last year. I was pretty much sitting right inside a fuel tank, so…I’m not sure about that—it was pretty sketchy.
It was definitely a different time. Matt, it’s been a lot of fun to watch your race this year. Best of luck of this May and through the rest of the Pro Mazda season!
MB: Thanks very much!
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Zachary Houghton runs indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.