See the words “Brabham 30th to third” and the mental image of Geoff in a Nissan GTP at Laguna Seca, or David in an HPD variant at Mosport might come to mind off the top of your head.
What you might not expect, is that this instance of those four words and that type of drive was 18-year-old Matthew – or Matty – Brabham in a Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda race, at Mid-Ohio. It's a physically demanding track that's as challenging to master as it is notoriously difficult to pass.
Yet a tire violation in qualifying sent the day's fastest qualifier to the back of the 30-car field, behind both Championship and the slower National class (Formula Enterprise/Formula Continental cars) entries. He'd ran a set of tires which was not nominated for competition.
You might lose your head at that particular moment, and knowing the challenge ahead, get frustrated. Doing so for Brabham wasn't an option in this instance, for the first of two weekend races at Mid-Ohio.
“Really I just tried to not to think about it, keep my head down and my mind clear,” he says. “I tried to keep as calm as possible because I wouldn't want to get too frantic or crash into anyone. I knew I could do it; I'd come from the back a lot in go-karting.”
A decision from his Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing team – which was also at the front of the field with teammates Spencer Pigot and Trent Hindman – saw Brabham opt for a low downforce strategy, to maximize straight line speed and utilize a slipstream for more passing.
“We'd taken the decision to run a lot less wing, so that I'd have a lot more speed down the straights,” he explains. “We sacrificed a bit through the corners, and I was struggling compared to Trent or people up front, but I was still quicker than the people at the back through the corners.
“And then I was really, really fast down the straight, so I could slipstream past a lot of people. For the first half of the race, the speed difference was so great. Toward the end of the race, it helped having the less wing. It would be really hard to pass any of them in the corners.”
Despite only having a 30-minute window, Brabham's expectations were realistic. He even thought a top-five was possible going in, and a caution midway through the race made it to where a podium position was achievable.
“My real expectations was to get close enough, about fourth or fifth,” he says. “I knew I had lots of speed coming through the field. Throughout the whole race, I set goals depending on how the race came to me. If there were no yellows, it'd be hard to pass fourth, fifth and sixth. The yellow helped bring the leaders back toward me.
“Before the restart, I thought ‘Let's get this clump of cars.' And I got through this group of cars, then started catching the leaders quick. We could really get a podium position. We could really push for a second, so I set goals throughout the race. I really didn't have too many expectations, anything could have happened. I could have crashed out on the way up. I didn't expect too much; it turned out alright.”
Brabham only lost a few points to Saturday winner Pigot, and come Sunday, the two actually ran off the road in unison at Turn 6 in the rain. It's not the first time the two have been neck-and-neck as teammates; Brabham recounted his earlier side-by-side battle with Pigot at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis, the series' last race, on the half-mile oval in May.
“We were side-by-side for three-four laps; it was a coming of age almost,” Brabham relates. “I got ahead, then he did, then I did, and we swapped back-and-forth. We were side-by-side for so long, we got way too close every lap, and just nicked each other. The whole steering wheel came out of my hands! I managed to keep going but the steering was a bit out of whack. It was a lot of fun. A great first oval race, I really enjoyed it.”
After a dry spell where the series was racing once in four months (Indy in May was only USF2000 race from April through July), the USF2000 series resumes at Road America, alongside the American Le Mans Series, for a tripleheader weekend in two weeks.