Brabham Race Setups

Coventry | Murasama | BRM | Brabham | Ferrari | Eagle | Lotus

The Brabham BT24 was the most successful car of 1967. It won the World Constructor's Championship and carried Denny Hulme and Jack Brabham to first and second in the World Driver's Championship. This, among his other exploits, earned Sir Jack his title.

Fans of the Brabham who have tried it in GPL will have found it to be a small, lightweight, nimble car with an enormously broad power band and very robust construction. It never feels like you're going that fast, but you can be surprised. I'm often surprised to learn my lap times at the end of what seems like a relaxed, mellow run.

Brabham drivers like Grant Reeve and Adam Zerlin have shown stunning speed in the Brabham. David Schwabe has made available a collection of amazingly fast replays, with setups, at his excellent Aussie Toad site.

Historical Background

After winning two World Championships at the wheel of John Cooper's innovative GP cars, Jack Brabham left Cooper at the end of 1961 to start his own F1 team. In 1962, Jack became the first driver to win a Grand Prix in a car of his own manufacture.

Brabham used mostly Coventry Climax engines until the end of the 1.5 liter formula in 1965, but Jack had the foresight to begin preparation for the 1966 3 liter formula by asking the Australian tuning firm, Repco, to develop a 3 liter engine based on the aluminum-block V-8 being built at the time by GM for small Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac sedans. Repco developed overhead cam alloy heads for the BOP V-8, and made other modifications to adapt it to racing. The single cam Repco V-8 was a success, being light and reasonably powerful, and more reliable than the more exotic creations being developed by the other Grand Prix teams.

The Brabham BT19, the first Brabham chassis for the 3 liter formula, was the lightest car of 1966, and good enough to take Jack to his third World Driver's Championship and his first Constructor's Championship in 1966. Brabham's small firm by then was also producing Formula 3, Fornula 2, and sports racing cars, and engines for street cars.

At Monaco in 1967 the BT24 was introduced. This was essentially the Brabham Formula 2 chassis modified to take the Repco V-8. The result was a marvel of elegant and effective design. The car is tiny; I saw a 1967 Brabham-Repco BT24 at the Watkins Glen vintage F1 reunion in the summer of 1998, and it is so small that it seems hardlly larger than a toy kiddie car. Yet it's still incredibly effective; in a field full of newer, slick-shod cars from the 70's and early 80's, the driver hurled that Brabham - still on treaded tires - around the modern circuit with verve. He finished near the front of the pack.

The car was enormously effective in 1967. After the introduction of the Lotus 49 at Zandvoort, the Brabham was never the fastest car, and toward the end of the year the pace of engine development by the other teams began to leave the Repco V-8 significantly down on power. But when the Lotus broke, the Brabhams were there to pick up the pieces.

Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme finished one-two in France and again at Mosport in the rain. Hulme won at Monaco and the Nurburgring (GPL fans know what a testament these wins were to Denny's skill!) and was 2nd at Silverstone behind Clark. Brabham might very well have won at Monza but slipped in some oil exiting Parabolica on the last lap, ending up second to Surtees in the Honda by half a car length.

Denny won the 1967 driver's championship by six points over Brabham and ten points over Jim Clark. The Brabham won the constructor's championship as well. I think it might be fair to say that the Brabham BT24 dominated the results sheets that year.

Why Drive the Brabham?

The Brabham is great as a next step in the progression of driver development, and it is a strong car from a competitive point of view as well.

The Brabham is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the BRM in almost every way. It's the smallest, lightest, narrowest car in GPL. It's the least powerful, but with the broadest, flattest power band. These characteristics, in addition to a forward weight bias (discussed in more detail below), make for a car that demands smoothness and precision when handling the car, and precise throttle control, all skills which will stand the driver in good stead when driving the more powerful cars.

The Brabham is also very robust. It's probably the toughest car of all; in Pro mode (i.e. at Realistic damage level), the chassis will stand up to more abuse than any other car. Also, unless you seriously abuse the engine, it will almost certainly stay together. These qualities make it a very good choice for Pro races, especially at the circuits which emphasize handling, such as the Nurburgring and Monaco, where its narrowness is also a boon.

For reasons which are not entirely clear to me, perhaps having to do with its light weight, the Brabham is very good off the line. If you can get it onto the front row, you've got a very good chance of leading, and, as I mentioned in my BRM notes, once in the lead it's difficult for the drivers behind to pass.

The Brabham is an excellent car under race conditions, because it's possible to go quite quickly, not far off of the car's limit, without working very hard. With its low-revving motor, and excellent grip from relatively lightly loaded tires, laps that feel almost leisurely will be leaving most of the competition in the dust.

In any race, in capable hands the Brabham will be a contender. Granted, given equal drivers, a Lotus or an Eagle will probably outrun it, but except at Monza and perhaps Spa the Brabham will still be in sight at the end. Given a slight advantage in driver skill, or a mistake or two by the Lotus, Ferrari, and Eagle drivers, and the Brabham driver will quite likely be found at the top of the podium when the race is over.

Making the Brabham work

In its default trim, I found the Brabham to be very twitchy, lurching and darting around, especially in the entry phase of the corner as it rolled and transferred weight to the outside wheels. This made it difficult to place precisely, and presented a unique challenge when it came to developing setups. I had to find ways to control the Brabham's behavior.

In terms of setup development, it took me a longer time to come to terms with the Brabham than with any other car so far. The results, however, speak for themselves. Set up well, the Brabham is a truly wonderful car.

The Brabham shares one quality with the BRM: its narrow wheelbase, combined with an engine with a center of gravity no lower than the other engines, tends to lead to a lot of roll. For this reason, I've found it necessary to use fairly stiff anti-roll bar settings to keep the car off the bump stops.

On the other hand, the short moment arm of the Brabham suspension seems to require softer damping than any of the other cars. With the bump damper settings at anything higher than two clicks, the Brabham gets very nervous, tending to dance around over the bumps, darting and weaving madly, requiring a lot of driver input to keep it on the road.

Also, I found that the Brabham seemed to like surprisingly stiff springs in the rear, nearly at the upper limit of adjustment. This was necessary to keep it off the bump stops under acceleration out of banked and bumpy corners. However, I'm running fairly soft springs at the front, which has an advantage in giving a nice visual cue to the driver as to how hard the brake pedal is being pushed.

After considerable tweaking, I arrived at setups with soft damping, fairly stiff springs in the rear but soft in the front, and stiff anti-roll bar settings, considering the car's weight. On some other points, I've continued the trend I started with my BRM setups, using 15:1 steering ratio, symmetrical camber, and 19 psi in the front tires and 21 in the rear. I prefer the latter for lateral stiffness to help keep the car from wallowing and make turn-in more precise.

I'm also using relatively rearward brake bias, although the Brabham's forward weight bias makes it look like I'm using more forward brake settings than, say, the BRM. This rearward brake bias demands more precise regulation of the brakes from the driver but permits the use of brake to transfer weight forward during corner entry, assisting with turn-in.

With these setups, the Brabham is smooth, predictable, and chuckable, as well as very responsive, allowing the driver to make effective use of its nimbleness, good power to weight ratio, and excellent throttle response.

For more details on my setup philosophy and what happens when the suspension goes onto the bump stops, see my Coventry discussion and my setup tips.

So how does she go?

Make no mistake. The Brabham is a seriously fast car. With good setups, this little darling is quick.

My best time at Mexico is within a tenth of my all-time best, set with the Eagle. My Rouen, Glen, Silverstone, Nurburgring, and Zandvoort times are also close to my best with any car, and it's only recently that I've managed to use another car to best my quickest time in the Brabham at Monaco.

Kyalami 1:22.58
Mexico City 1:50.23
Monaco 1:31.61
Monza 1:30.25
Mosport 1:23.90
Nurburgring 8:51.97
Rouen 2:00.97
Silverstone 1:29.72
Spa-Francorchamps 3:26.30
Watkins Glen 1:06.60
Zandvoort 1:27.64

For some reason, it took me a long time to lay down a Nurburgring time. I'm not sure how this came to be. I think what happens is that every time I go onto the Ring in the Brabham, I start throwing it around because it's so much fun to do so, but then eventually I step over the limit and start crashing, and eventually I get frustrated and quit before I've made it twice around to get a timed lap.

Obviously, some discipline is needed here! Finally, this evening, I made a couple of calm and leisurely laps, and the second was within six seconds of my all-time best there. But for a quick spin when I touched the grass with my outside rear wheel at Ex Muhle, I think it would have been my best ever.

Interestingly, I'm pretty sure that I was able to fairly easily break my personal Brabham records tonight at both the Ring and Silverstone as a result of the time I've been putting in lately on the ovals converted from N2 and ICR2. Driving hundreds of laps around Loudon and Phoenix has made me much more sensitive to what's going on at the tire contact patch, and also what happens when the car loads and unloads on the banking and when cresting rises.

There's something to be said for running all types of tracks. Bring on that Champcar sim!

Driving the Brabham

Despite having "only" 350 horsepower, the Brabham is immensely powerful. Think of it: more power than any but the most powerful of modern street cars, but at less than a third of the weight. The prudent Brabham driver will want to develop an expert throttle foot.

The Brabham has the most forward weight bias of all the cars, with only 58% of its weight on the rear wheels, compared with 60 to 64% for the other cars. This, along with the Brabham's light weight, makes it very easy to spin the rear wheels at slower speeds. The Brabham gives the driver more of a challenge in terms of throttle control than any of the other cars for which I've published setups to date.

One thing the Brabham has in common with the BRM is a short wheelbase, which, combined with its small size and light weight, makes for lightning-quick reactions. These fast reactions, and the need to develop a well-trained right foot, makes the Brabham excellent training for the similarly responsive but more powerful cars from Ferrari and Lotus. As with the BRM, you'll need to be smooth and develop fast, precise responses to keep the Brabham in line, but now you'll need to be paying strict attention to how you put the power down as well.

The Brabham is a very sensitive car, if you can restrain yourself from putting your boot in it all the time. When the wheels are spinning under power, it masks what the chassis is trying to tell you. Exercise a little restraint, and the Brabham really talks to you. It telegraphs loud and what it's doing as it slithers over the bumps, making little sideways hops as it crests each one, and hunkering down as it digs in when the chassis loads up under positive G's. It's a delicious feeling, and one the heavier cars just don't match.

For the lazy (like me), the Repco's broad power band means less shifting, because you can often leave it in a higher gear and still have plenty of power, more than enough to spin the rear wheels.

The Repco's immense torque also gives the Brabham driver something to play with. The Australian-American V-8 lacks the peaky response of the Ferrari and Cosworth, which tend to break the rear tires loose when they "come on the cam". This makes it much easier to manage on acceleration out of the corners. It's probably as easy to powerslide the Brabham as any car in GPL.

Unless you're Jack Brabham or Jochen Rindt, though, powersliding isn't really the fast way around. Nail those braking points and those apexes, finesse the roaring Toad around the corners, get the power down carefully and well, and you will have a really, really good time with this car.

So what do other people think of these setups?

Downloaded the new Brabham setups. Some laps at Kyalami:

1 1:53.87
2 1:24.32
3 1:23.31
4 1:22.96
5 1:22.98
6 1:22.56
7 1:33.09
8 1:22.28
9 1:22.43
10 1:24.84

I only tested the Brabham for a few laps when GPL was released so these are the first ten laps for quite some time in this car. My personal best at Kyalami is 1:22.02 in the Ferrari. Say no more. Great work!

- Rolf Hansson

V8 thunder

The Repco sound that comes with GPL is really (don't tell) a small block Chevy. The Chevy is actually not too far off from the aluminum GM-based Repco V-8, but it lacks the crisp, urgent crackle in the upper registers of the real thing.

Fortunately there is now available a more pleasant and authentic-sounding sample. A very clever fellow named Patrick has adapted a recording of Nick Mason's 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO V12 to work with GPL.

You can download Patrick's sounds from his site. I highly recommend all of them. The GTO sample is excellent; in addition to a low-RPM rumble that suits the Repco quite well, it has high-freqency overtones that give it the harsh edge and immediacy that I experienced when I heard that real '67 Repco V-8 at the Glen last summer.

With a good sound card connected to a good home stereo system, and the volume on "realistic", this sound is superb. (See the sidebar on my BRM page for tips on setting the volume.)

The setups

Alison's Brabham Race Setups (10/24/98 - 5 kb) - Race setups for the Brabham. The latest zip file includes a setup for Brands Hatch, using my latest setup philosophy.

These setups go into the setups folder under your GPL players folder. For example, my setups folder is:


This setup collection was zipped with the paths to the track folders included. You can simply unzip the entire archive into your setups folder.

Note that these are setups for the GP car. It is possible to use them for the Trainers, although you'll need to rework the gearing.

To use a GP setup for a trainer, you simply need to change the filename extension. GP setups use an extension ending in 1, while the Advanced Trainer and Basic Trainer's setups end in 2 and 3, respectively.

Thus, to use my Brabham Monza GP setup for the Advanced Trainer, create a copy of Ali_Brabham_Monza.br1 and rename it to Ali_Brabham_Monza.br2. Then revise the gearing to be appropriate for the lower redline of the Advanced Trainer engine.

See my Setups page to download my setups for other cars.