Matthew Brabham made a solid debut in the Formula Renault BARC Championship today at Silverstone, finishing sixth among an extremely competitive 32-car field at the wheel of his Team USA Scholarship/Cliff Dempsey Racing entry. The result ensured an impressive start to his tenure as the latest Team USA Scholarship winner, following in the footsteps of accomplished veterans such as Jimmy Vasser, Bryan Herta, Buddy Rice, AJ Allmendinger and Andy Lally, and rising stars JR Hildebrand, Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden.
Brabham benefited from the brief experience he gained during test sessions on Wednesday and Friday – and the data from English CDR teammate Chris Middlehurst – to qualify fifth for today's race. His best time of 56.875sec was just over 0.3sec adrift of polesitter Seb Morris in a field where the top 22 cars were separated by less than a second. Brabham was a scant 0.03sec adrift of championship leader Scott Malvern and a similar margin in front of Middlehurst. After a short break, the cars returned to the track to set the grid order for Race Two on Sunday. This time Brabham had to settle for 14th.
“Qualifying went well,” said Brabham. “It was a little different to what I'm used to with the split sessions although it was quite fun to change it up a bit. It was a little wet but there was a clear dry line and I managed to qualify fifth for the first race which was excellent. It was so close, as it's been all week, and I was only half a tenth off second place! In the second session everyone got a bit quicker but I stayed the same so I fell down the order. It was a little disappointing for me, but it's all so close that only a few tenths separates us all.”
The usual first-lap shuffle in today's 18-lap race resulted in Brabham losing a place to Middlehurst. The Florida-born and based Brabham then settled into a race-long battle with Russian Ivan Taranov and Briton Kieran Vernon. Their infighting allowed Middlehurst to make a slight break, but there was no respite for Brabham. Vernon found a way past his Russian rival on lap 9, but Brabham withstood the pressure to secure a sixth-place result.
“It was a lot of fun as the racing was quite tough,” he said. “I was a little nervous as it's been a long time since I've done a standing start, but I got away well. Into the second corner I got a little nudge from behind and went wide. I didn't lose any positions but I lost a bit of time to the people in front, so the rest of the race I was defending quite hard. The last few laps I managed to get a slight gap and hold my position. I'm very happy to finish sixth. These guys have been racing all year and I still have a lot to learn about these cars and the way these guys race over here.
“Tomorrow I start 14th, so it's going to be a tough race but I'm looking forward to it. I'm learning a huge amount and really enjoying the challenge.”