2008 race final on the grid at Eastern Creek for the Tasman Revival meeting #12 Brabham driven by Rodin Wootton, #40 McLaren driven by Kenny Smith

Brabham Racing

Summary: Brabham BT18 1966 Was owned & driven by Roly Levis Who competed in the New Zealand Gold Star series and was successful in winning the championship for 1966-67 Roly’s car Chassis number AM168 was the most successful Brabham Formula 2 car in New Zealand during this period.

 “The Brabham” has been painstakingly restored to original condition, a total ground up rebuild; it is one of a few, that still use the original chassis, and the unique chassis stamp of that period. The gearbox a 5 speed Mark 5 Howland is fitted to a Lotus twin cam 1600cc engine, which produces around 175 bhp. All factory standard, for this period.


I talked to present owner Bruce, and son Rodin Wootton, who have had over 17 years of development work invested in this car. The Brabham has its own covered trailer, complete with all trusty spare parts. The duo’s home track is Pukekohoe/Hampton Downs race way Auckland south, They say with the present suspension set up and gear box ratio the car will cruise happily around the circuit returning lap times of 1:07 to 1:08 that’s pretty much the same lap times of the 1967 period, When asked how fast the Brabham can actually go, Rodin said driving it to 95% percent  will achieve lap times of 1:03’s, the car requires more opposite steering lock than normal, but otherwise remains stable.

I ask him “if possible to go back in time how do you think you’d compare to drivers of that period?”

He responded “Actually pretty good, a lot of the drivers of that period were not just drivers; they were mechanic’s, and or engineers.  Like myself they understood these cars inside and out, And they needed to. Remember racing cars of this period were terribly unreliable; to win not only do you have to be fast but you needed to know how to save the car and engine so that you finished. Finishing races is the key to winning championships. Something else to factor in is the sheer number of hours in testing we have clocked up. Drivers of that period basically had new untested cars at the start of the season, with limited time, or little funding for development, quite often race day was practice and testing all rolled into one.

Can you talk me through what is like to drive the Brabham?

“We’ll it is like taking a step back in time, You realize pretty quickly how talented the chaps were that drove them,  at first thought one might think twice about  strapping yourself to an 80litre fuel tank that resembles a seat, or the fact that you’re in a laying down position Two inches off the ground. But I can assure you once the engine is running and you’re travelling at speed these are the last things on your mind. The sheer acceleration is impressive, the soft suspension dips the rear end, both rear wheels are screeching, and the tacho needle never leaves 7,000 rpm. Clutch out and your off,  you have about 1-1/2 seconds between gear changes, 1st,2nd and 3rd all happen pretty fast,   so now that you’re doing 140 plus km’s you have time to take that first breath and look at the instruments,  and select 4th gear,  2 more seconds pass, and it’s into 5th gear, now at this point the front tyres have grown in diameter by about 30% and your helmet is getting buffed around by the wind, as the tacho nears 7,000 rpm  yet again you need to start lining the car up for your first corner, the Brabham will brake from a top speed of {220km-230km} in around 150 metres,  a quick check in the mirrors and push the brake pedal as hard as you can. the front of the car dives immediately, pump the clutch in and out simultaneously with the gear lever, blipping the throttle all at the same time 5th, 4th,3rd, 2nd,   you have about 2 seconds to do this in. turn and accelerate all over again. In the long sweeping turns the back gently steps out, as the sway bars all torsion up, the car is now ready for a little opposite lock and another foot full of throttle. Once you’re in this position, the car is blinding fast through the turns, the more power the faster you go. The inside front tyre is unloaded and the car feels like it’s in a crabbing position, prior to breaking you need to straighten the car first,  you really need to know what you’re doing here or the car will punish you for it.

How would you compare driving the Brabham to a modern day single seater?

Well the driving style is completely different, the Brabham was designed basically in the 1960’s as a road race car, uneven, contoured corners, and concrete to gravel and grass paddock’s, etc. They raced on city roads, air bases, and circuit’s tracks so the suspension was made to move and travel, this movement is great for transferring weight or load from one side of the car to the other it keeps all the tyres contacting the road. I have found the Brabham excel's on either power tracks, which is all turn and squirt, or high speed long sweeping turns. They do not like “s” bends or quick succession left, right, left turns. This is because the car has trouble quickly transferring weight, due to the soft suspension. Running “tight” or “Hard” helps but normally by the third turn the car becomes unstable with less overall grip. Lucky for me there is only one circuit in New Zealand that has this lay out, being Taupo.

What would you consider the best Brabham ever? 

“Well I’m very fond of my BT18 and enjoy driving the BT21’s  But I believe it would be the BT23C, it fits all the rules for historic racing with all the best technology for that era, Some say it was the best Brabham ever made, the car was considered unbeatable. I sure would love to drive one in the future.

Interviewed by Nicola cooper 8-11-2009

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