5 things Matt Brabham needs to learn in a hurry for V8 debut
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As previously reported, this weekend's round of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship will see the debut of 23-year-old Matthew Brabham; grandson of Jack Brabham.
It's the third rookie-related coup for the series in recent times, following on from the signing of Simona de Silvestro (the first female to sign on as a full-time driver since the 90s) and Alex Rullo (the youngest ever Supercars full-timer, at 16-years-old).
For the moment it's just a one-off drive, with scheduled driver Taz Douglas caught up with other commitments over the weekend. But Matt is a driver at a crossroads in his career, with his plans to compete in the IndyCar Series on a more regular basis seemingly put on hold. Having come back to Australia late last year, and having driven in the Stadium Super Trucks, Australian Production Car Championship, and Toyota 86 Championship in that time, Supercars could be in his near future.
This weekend is going to be a big challenge for him; here's what he'll need to overcome as practice, qualifying, and racing unfolds.
The car and tyre
All race cars require some level of preparation and adaption, but the modern day Supercar ranks among one of the toughest for drivers to get their heads around in the world.
Enormous power to the rear wheels remains largely untamed, with current aero packages nowhere near as effective as, say, those on a GT3 race car. Coupling this with a tyre and suspension combination that offer very little feedback to the driver in a relative sense (most certainly when compared to an IndyCar), and you've got a heck of a challenge.
This will be the biggest challenge for a talented youngster like Brabham, made more challenging still by the fact that his teammate Alex Rullo is still learning these concepts as a rookie, too.
To use a Skaife-ism, "these guys play for keeps"
The beauty of cars that aren't so aero-reliant is that the racing remains cut-throat and physical, and that's the case in the Supercars. Drivers all the way through the field will dive bomb each other under brakes and rub door to door without even thinking about it.
And it's a factor magnified for those outside of the top 15. Indeed some of the fiercest, most dicey battle packs spawn from the rear of the grid; where Brabham is likely to reside for most of the weekend.
In this regard Brabham's experience in the Stadium Super Trucks should be an advantage — that being a category where body contact and general roughhousing are the norm on every single lap. In much bigger vehicles.
Barbagallo is both good and terrible
As far as debut circuits go, Barbagallo has both good and bad points.
The key good point is that it's got huge run-offs all the way around; the concrete walls on the circuit circumference often padded by huge sand traps. That should make it much less daunting than, say, a debut at the Clipsal 500 concrete paradise.
On the downside however is, because it's such a small and simple circuit, drivers must be on their A game to keep up with the leaders. If you're just a few tenths off the pace during qualifying, you'll be down the back. And this will be particularly true of someone like Brabham who's fresh in almost every sense.
It's also a difficult place to pass. You can dive underneath people at the first corner, the 'bowl', and the final corner, but generally all three moves can be countered straight away. The track is quite narrow, and should see tyre wear become a crucial factor — especially with temperatures in the 30s expected.
Don't expect results straight away
MotoGP God Casey Stoner joined the Dunlop Development Series V8 circus in 2013 for a maiden season trying to get his head around these touring-car beasts. He experienced what most would label a typical first season in the series, with a best finish of fifth at Queensland Raceway. But, he didn't come back.
Marcos Ambrose did something similar at the end of 2014, returning after a long career in Nascar. His first full season back looked on target, with him sitting on the edge of the top 10 of the championship after round one at Adelaide. But after just two rounds (the second of which being the non-points event at the Melbourne Grand Prix) Ambrose decided to retire.
Both drivers simply couldn't hack not being on the top step. And while I'm not saying that Brabham falls into this category too, it's still a valid point to make for anyone just starting out in these challenging cars. There are a lucky few who can strike success early, but the majority take one or two full seasons before they can start to show their true potential.
As such, Brabham's goals for the weekend should be humble. Finish both races, keep your nose clean, shave your best times closer and closer to the bulk of the field, and have a giggle. Hopefully his debut this weekend won't also be his last.