The when, what and where of Mathew Brabham’s 2015 racing plans were answered when Andretti Autosport and Brabham announced that he would be piloting the No. 83 Mazda powered Dallara car in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire field at the season opening pair of races during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Although it hasn’t been easy for the young American born, Australian raised driver, he offered a reflective and honest answer when asked about the delay in putting a deal together. “We’ve been struggling getting sponsorship together,” said 2012 USF2000 and 2013 Pro Mazda champion. “I’ve had it easy over the last couple of years with the Mazda scholarship, and it’s made me a little to bit relaxed on that side. Going out, this year, and having to try and find sponsorship myself has definitely been tough, but I think it’s been a good life experience and for my career. It’s going to definitely help me when I get further up in my career. Me and my dad haven’t really been used to having to do it quite as extensively as we have been recently, and we are both learning together.”
As far as his chances of racing beyond St. Pete? “At the moment, we have nothing, so zero,” explained Brabham. “But we’re going to be working hard and obviously if we have a good result at St. Pete, it’s going to greatly increase our chances.”
Luckily the 21 year-old won’t be heading to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg double header completely blind. Brabham was able to drive car at the Dallara simulator in Speedway, Indiana in the fall, and the Andretti Autosport team will be testing on the road course at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Monday, March 23, 2015. “There will be a couple of teams there as well,” said Brabham. “So hopefully we’ll be able to get a good read on where we are.”
Putting together a last minute, one race program with the pressure to perform right out of the box is at best, a difficult proposition. However, Brabham thinks that a familiarity with the team and his engineer could help him overcome the obstacles he faces.
“I’ve worked with Andretti (Autosport), this will be my third year with them, so I know everybody on the team really well.” explained Brabham. “I know Shelby (his Indy Lights teammate) really well, we’re all family, we’ve all worked together previously, and we all get along really well, so it’s going to be easy to fit in and start focusing straight away on getting good results.”
The importance of an effective working relationship between a driver and his engineer is often an overlooked aspect of a successful team. Brabham has spent the off-season testing and racing with the Andretti Autosport FIA Formula E program, and his engineer with that program, Dave Seyffert, will continue with Brabham in Indy Lights. “Dave and I both jumped into Formula E relatively new and had to go out there and perform straight away” said Brabham. “We both know how to work together, and how to attack a new car and a new experience. That’s going to be a big help.”
Seyffert has been with Andretti Autosport for over a decade at an assistant engineer and research and development engineer on the Verizon IndyCar Series side of the shop. He was Dario Franchitti’s assistant engineer when he won the Verizon IndyCar Series championship in 2007. The Michigan State grad has also spent time with Johansson Motorsport and Conquest Racing.
For a lot of drivers scoring a win, four podiums and fourth place in the championship in your rookie season of Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire would be considered a successful season. When asked about his 2014 season, Brabham said, “I wasn’t quite happy with my performance in the Indy Lights season last year. Even though it was quite good, I wanted to win the championship. I’ve definitely had a step back and a think of how to improve everything.”
Brabham credited some of his success during a dominating 13 win Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire championship in 2013 to spending plenty of time behind the wheel in the off-season after winning the Team USA Scholarship. Brabham hopes that his Formula E experience during the winter will have the same impact.
Brabham does think that this car will suit his driving style a little better than the previous Indy Lights car. Regarding the driving style need for the new Mazda powered IL-15, he said, “I feel this car will be quite good of a stepping stone from Pro Mazda. It sounds like it’s closer to a more realistic race car driving style. The old Indy Lights car was so outdated that it had it’s own driving style, that didn’t quite relate to the Verizon IndyCar Series car or to the previous rungs (USF2000 & Pro Mazda) of the ladder.”
But, that certainly doesn’t mean he didn’t learn anything from the old car. Being able to adapt is something that all elite drivers do. Look at drivers like Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Briscoe who can go back and forth between IndyCar and sports cars. “Even though the old car wasn’t quite up to date”, Brabham explained. “It still taught a lot; it taught the adaptability side.”
In five races on the 14-Turn 1.8 mile street circuit, Brabham has scored two victories and four podiums and will be looking to turn that experience on the tricky track into the results he needs to propel a two race deal into a full season deal.
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire weekend schedule
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