Sports Cars - Class of 2004
Street signs along a slight dogleg stretch of Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami long ago should have been changed to read "Brabham Boulevard."
True, Australian Geoff Brabham's sparkling career featured victories in the world's most storied sports car races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring (twice).
Also true, from 1988 through 1991 he dominated in the International Motorsports Association's premier Camel GT prototype series as few drivers have on any of the world's auto racing stages, stringing together four championship seasons.
But rarely has a race driver been more identified with a specific circuit than Sir Jack Brabham's son became with the serpentine course over which Ralph Sanchez promoted the last 10 of his 13 Grand Prix of Miami events between 1983 and 1995.
Four of Brabham's IMSA victories came in Miami during a six-year era of excellence in the Don Devendorf-developed Nissan Turbos.
This was during a golden age when the series that also showcased Porsches, Jaguars and Toyotas was achieving a popularity peak and before costs consigned the space-age prototypes to museums or private collections.
Brabham shared the winner's laurels in three of the three-hour dramas in Miami's Monte Carlo-like setting: With Elliott Forbes-Robinson in 1987, with Chip Robinson in 1989, and with Chip Robinson and Bob Earl in 1990. He capped the spectacular run with a 1992 solo drive.
Oil from a rival's engine coated Brabham's windshield at one treacherous stage of his 1992 charge, and he missed his pit once before being directed in by radio communication. Always equipped with a dry wit, he described the adventure as "like flying into an airport locked in by fog." But by that point, he almost could have found his way around the picturesque, 11-corner circuit blindfolded anyway.
Few drivers were as versatile as the Aussie whose father won three world Formula One championships and, in 1961, launched the rear-engine revolution in Indy cars.
Geoff Brabham, who began racing Formula Fords in Australia in 1973 at age 21, enjoyed varied successes in the U.S. He claimed the 1981 Can-Am championship. He won an all-star International Race of Champions sprint at Michigan in 1992.
Though never a winner in the demanding CART series, he finished second six times ... to the likes of Mario Andretti, Rick Mears and Al Unser Jr. ... in less than top-of-the-line equipment. He posted a pair of top-five finishes in the fabled Indianapolis 500, including a fifth as a rookie in 1981.
Brabham gravitated toward IMSA full-time in 1988 after a jobs crunch left him without a full-time CART ride. Always understated and philosophical, he once concluded of the sport's whims, "No one ever said racing wasn't character-building."
Being the son of a racing legend can be a knee-buckling burden. But Geoff Brabham shouldered that load admirably. He took a rich family history and made it richer.
Brothers David and Gary carved smaller niches. Gary shared the winning Sebring car with Geoff in 1991. And on the day Geoff added his name to Le Mans lore, David shared a support-class victory.
Geoff Brabham's co-drivers in the Le Mans-winning Peugeot 905 were a pair of Frenchmen, Christophe Bouchut and Eric Helary. Team manager Jean Todt complimented Brabham's sterling performance by assigning him to drive the celebratory closing laps.
Better still, Sir Jack Brabham was on hand to cheer on his sons.
By Gary Long