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GP Week : Issue 202
F1 >>> sir JACK BrABHAM suddenly, there was a noise, tyre smoke and a spinning car. The date was sunday July 10, 1966. The event was the XIV Grand Prix de Rouen-les-essarts on the 6.5km Rouen circuit. It may not have been Formula 1, but it was not an event to be taken lightly. At 301km, the race was of distance similar to a World Championship Grand Prix. And it was for a championship – the European Formula 2 Championship. The season had been one-way traffic. Jack Brabham was raced in seven of the nine rounds held to that point, for six wins and a second (which came in the season opener, behind Jimmy Clark). His Brabham BT18, with its Honda engine, was dominant. It was Honda’s second year with Brabham and a lot had been learned. Brabham and his engineer Ron Tauranac were somewhat alarmed when the first engine built by the Japanese engineers arrived at their English factory. It was bulky, tall enough to prompt them to lean it over in the chassis and while it made good power, it was peaky. The engineers were accustomed to chasing horsepower numbers on dynamometers, and how and where in the rev band their engines made that power was secondary. The two Australians pointed out to their Japanese partners that ultimate power was useful on only certain parts of a few circuits; driveability was important everywhere. So was packaging; when the revised engines arrived in time for the 1966 season, they were less powerful than those from ’65 – but torquier and smaller. So Brabham and Honda were dominating. But Honda was not happy. They went racing so that their engineers could learn how make all their engines – in cars, motorcycles and power equipment – better. Problem was, the 1000cc motors in the back of the Brabhams were not breaking and the engineers didn’t know where to focus their energies. So, Honda stepped in. And by ‘Honda’, I mean Soichiro Honda, The revered founder of the company decreed that a motor be built for Rouen that contained used crankshaft and bearings, already past their life, so that their engineers could see what broke. Brabham was in career-best form. The previous weekend he dominated both the French Grand Prix in his Repco-Brabham and the F2 round held at the same meeting at Reims. Denny Hulme was third in the GP (behind the Ferrari of Mike Parkes) but had dropped out of the F2 race with a broken rocker – but his car was Cosworth powered. Brabham qualified on pole at Rouen and sped away from the grid. It was looking like another win but, with six laps of the race to go, the inevitable happened. His Honda seized, his wheels locked and the car spun to a halt. As he walked in, the press gathered at the Brabham pit. A mechanical failure? Yes it was. Brabham showed them the broken gear lever, which he had put in his pocket. That is the official cause of his DNF in the race, recorded to this day. The reason the gear lever broke was because Jack broke it off, to save Honda’s any embarrassment that might come its way from an engine failure. Pops Honda got his broken engine, and his engineers now knew where to focus their efforts. Brabham went on to win the European F2 title, a significant triumph that has somewhat dimmed in the mists of time alongside the feat of winning the World Championship for Drivers for the third time as well as one for Constructors. Did you know? ... F1 news editor PHIL BRANAGAN adds a couple of lesser-known tales to the fascinating Brabham story On the weekend when he won the first (of four in a row) F1 Grand Prix in the Repco Brabham, Jack had already won the F2 race in a Brabham-Honda (pictured). But then Honda wanted to push their engines further ... 25 GPWEEK.com // 25 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: