► BT62 driven
► Makes its debut at Brands Hatch
► Tested in Rockingham
This weekend, November 9-10, sees the Brabham BT62 make its motorsport debut, racing as an invitational entry in the 2019 Britcar finale at Brands Hatch. It’s probably the first step on the road to Le Mans for the McLaren Senna GTR rival, possibly in the hypercar class – it all depends how the regulations pan out.
Ahead of that debut, CAR tested the £1m track-only machine at Rockingham Race Circuit – now closed for racing, still open for some test days – and met Brabham Automotive sporting director David Brabham, the Pro who’ll partner second driver Will Powell at Brands in this Pro-Am entry.
Brabham, of course, is not only a Le Mans winner (with Peugeot in 2009) and former F1 racer in his own right, but the son of Australian Jack Brabham, the three-time world champion and the first and only man to win an F1 championship in a car bearing his name. The Brabham team scored 35 Formula 1 victories from 1961, before being sold and eventually collapsing in 1992.
David began thinking about the BT62 some 13 years ago, but first had to endure a lengthy legal battle to claim back the rights to use the family name. With that headache resolved six years ago, the BT62 could go ahead, and now, 50 years since Jack Brabham sold his F1 team, the Brabham name is back in business.
Brabham Automotive does not plan to stop here – the team hints at a more affordable, fully road-homologated model that’ll arrive in the not too distant future and tap the BT62’s foundations. And these are pretty special foundations.
Go on then, what’s the spec?
The mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive BT62 is constructed around a high-tensile chromoly steel spaceframe chassis clothed in full carbon fibre bodywork. The engine is based on a Ford 5.2-litre Voodoo V8. It’s derived from the flat-plane crank motor found in the latest Mustang GT350, though Brabham has increased capacity to 5.4 litres and the internals are so thoroughly revised that Brabham calls it its own. Power feeds through a Hollinger six-speed sequential gearbox, controlled by paddleshift controls on the steering wheel.
Suspension is by push-rod actuation all-round, with Ohlins dampers, while Brembo brakes feature carbon for both discs and pads, and the tyres are Goodyear slicks.
Performance of 700bhp and 492lb ft is robust if not exceptional these days, on paper at least, but the BT62 is naturally aspirated not turbo- or supercharged, weighs just 972kg dry and is said to produce over 1200kg of downforce. Context? The turbocharged Senna GTR trumps the Brabham with its 814bhp and 590lb ft, but not the 1188kg dry weight and downforce quoted at ‘up to 1000kg’. So the Brabham’s power-to-weight ratio of 720bhp-per-tonne (dry) betters the McLaren’s 685bhp-per-tonne (dry).
That ratio will be adjusted with power reduced and weight increased for the Britcar race, bringing it into line with GT3 machinery and guaranteeing its place on the Britcar grid next year.
Three versions of the BT62 are available: the Ultimate Track version we’re testing is the default, and costs the rather large £1m. Competition spec is lighter, with a wrap rather than paint, exposed interior carbon, no interior trim and nowhere to put a passenger. It’s yours from £750,000. Owners can also request a road compliant version, at £1.15m.
What’s the BT62 like to drive?
The BT62 blends attractive design (penned internally at Brabham, we’re told) with hardcore racer cues: the roof is just 1200mm high, and it sits on air jacks with slick-shod wheels, the front and rear carbon bodywork removed when we first see it rumbling in the pits. It looks senior, sounds ferociously grumpy and makes your heart pound even when it’s standing still.
The interior complements the seriousness of the exterior, and feels more like a racecar with a little added luxury than a road car stripped of it. You step over a large chunk of carbon bodywork, ducking your helmet under a low roofline lowered a little further by a neatly integrated and FIA-approved rollcage.
The seats are trimmed in leather and squish with surprisingly plush padding, but your backside is low, legs straight ahead, elbows bent as you grip an oblong steering wheel that’s just below your eyeline. The wheel’s various buttons include dials to adjust the level of stability control and ABS assistance. It’s dry but, what the hell, let’s vote conservative today.
So, the BT62 feels VERY serious, but it’s not lacking in comfort, nor is it as oppressive inside as the raucous V8 leads you to expect from outside – there’s certainly less resonance in the cabin than I mentally readied myself for. A meaty if easy clutch (you can ease out of the pits without throttle) and electrically assisted steering that blends accuracy with ease help calm nerves, though the brake pedal has a tougher feel. I stamp on it hard a few times, instructed on the importance of bringing the stoppers up to temperature.
After a cautious few corners on Rockingham’s infield, I progressively flatten the throttle. The V8 zings with response, its muscly rumble (and higher-rpm scream) makes the Senna sound a bit gruff and ordinary, and power floods in with a strong linearity from low revs and none of the boosty spikes that can make turbo cars feistier and less predictable.
Not that it isn’t mind-blowingly quick, because oh lordy the BT62 is quick, and with so little weight, so much power and gear shifts that spit through ratios, it fast-forwards down the straights in a fury of g-force, blinking blue up-shift lights and a blare of furious V8 thunder and transmission whine. Your mind scrambles to keep up.
Thankfully the brakes have talents to match the speed. I have never driven a car that stops with more authority than the Brabham, and of course it’s all thanks to those carbon-carbon brakes. It’s as though braking zones have been squashed in a scrapyard compacter, and because the pedal is hard and there’s ABS, you just batter that pedal as hard as you can, then bleed off progressively. It feels freaky for a couple of corners, then your brain clicks. Just brake later. Got it.
How does it handle?
The chassis is equally adept, if far more complex to mentally process and trust because the limits are so high. Early on you’ll probably notice the delicacy and lightness with which the BT62 arcs through slower corners – even if you think you’ve gone in too quickly, it just turns and grips, soaking up the stress, the easy but nicely weighted steering unflustered but clearly telegraphing what’s happening. It’s the same when you ease in to the vast reserves of power early on corner-exit – the BT62 just grips and goes. Even if previous experience says the rear tyres should slip, the slicks chew at the surface, the suspension takes the load, no matter that the downforce is yet to wake up.
So for all the Brabham’s inherent fear factor, you find yourself easing in to it, and as each lap ticks by, so confidence increases – the BT62 fires no warning shots in my direction as I build up to speed, and simply makes it clear that I could’ve pushed harder.
Mustering the confidence to keep up the speed through faster corners is the biggest challenge, just because the stakes are so much higher, but the delicacy that defines the Brabham in slower turns translates to quicker steady-state corners too. Compliant damping lends a calm, settled cornering attitude, even when the suspension’s heavily loaded up. It encourages you to lean more on the mechanical grip and keep accelerating, which makes the downforce work harder, pushing you further into the surface. I still can’t quite believe how much steering lock you can maintain while aggressively gathering speed.
The fact that the Brabham remains so unflustered despite the forces acting on it is not to play down the challenge drivers face here, because it demands all of your attention constantly, and I stepped from the cockpit feeling as pink and flushed as I did euphoric, and if you extract all that performance and make a mistake, there’s little doubt things will happen very rapidly indeed.
But the fact is the Brabham BT62 is an approachable machine given the firepower on tap, and it’s meant to be a challenge when you finally summon the skill and the courage to push the limits – we met two potential owners on our test day and one raced an historic Brabham and the other contested the Ferrari Challenge, and both planned to race the BT62 rather than simply track it. These people are not messing about.
Where’s the BT62 built? When can I buy one?
Fittingly, the BT62 will be produced in Adelaide, South Australia, and taps some of the supplier expertise left hanging by the end of Toyota, Holden and Ford car manufacturing in Australia. It’s a halo for the Adelaide-based FusionCapital group, which has interests in everything from a bus company to renewable energy.
Just 70 examples of the BT62 will be built, each taking 8-10 months from order to delivery, and there’ll be a driver development programme offered to help owners step up to the plate. We’d suggest that’s not only a very good idea, but probably essential.
It’s not simply the Brabham BT62’s speed or downforce or any of the other big numbers that make this car so truly phenomenal, it’s how it integrates all that in a package that’s approachable for drivers of varying abilities.
We’d be fibbing to say it flatters drivers of all abilities – novices really shouldn’t strap in to something this extreme – but the BT62 will flatter and ease in the relatively experienced with its compliance, drivable n/a V8 and killer brakes, while still giving pros something to think about, such is the depth of ability and scale of performance. That a more affordable road car plans to tap this brilliance is beyond exciting. Good luck this weekend chaps!