By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Despite never getting a full time look at a Verizon IndyCar Series ride over the offseason, Matthew Brabham looks poised for a return to the Indianapolis 500 this upcoming May.
The 23-year-old American Aussie made his series debut in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis last season with upstart Pirtek Team Murray, staying out of trouble and finishing 16th after completing all 82 laps.
Continuing on for the Month of May festivities at the Brickyard, Brabham made the field of 33 for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, a race his grandfather, three-time Formula One champion Sir Jack Brabham, competed at four times – scoring one top 10 in 1961.
Starting last year’s race 27th, Brabham kept out of trouble and ended the day 22nd. Although those numbers won’t stun a lot of people, the equipment and preparation wasn’t on the level of a Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, or Andretti Autosport.
Motorsports Tribune caught up with Brabham at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and shared exactly where everything sits as this year’s Indy 500 quickly approaches.
“We’re close,” said Brabham. “There are not too many cars left and time is our biggest obstacle to pull something together. It’s not that long until it’s the month of May and it all gets rolling, once all of that starts getting underway it makes everything a bit more difficult to get in.
“I want to do it properly. I don’t want to throw it all together at the last minute and have things go wrong. I’m working really hard.
“(Pirtek Team Murray boss) Brett ‘Crusher’ Murray is here, an all the guys that have helped me out through my career, are all working with me to try and get back in. We’re staying positive and hopeful.
“I think we’ve got a good shot of getting into the race and hopefully have an announcement soon.”
Despite his association with Pirtek Team Murray, the 2016 Stadium Super Trucks championship runner-up isn’t limiting the options.
“It just depends really on what falls into place,” said Brabham. “I think ‘Crusher’ had a great time last year and the Pirtek Team Murray team was phenomenal. We did some great media stuff and made an impact in that first year.
“It’d be great to have that same program back again, but at the same time we’re being flexible with it. It just depends on what we can pull together and how it works out. We’re not sure which way it’s going to go.”
A champion of both USF2000 and Pro Mazda titles in 2012 and 2013, Brabham doesn’t believe a return to the Indianapolis road course for the Grand Prix is realistic, but believes a potential deal for a second Indy 500 outing would likely need to be done by the end of the month.
“I think it would have to be (by the end of April),” said Brabham. “Maybe we could get something a couple of weeks into May, but time is of the essence. I desperately want to be in that race so bad.
Obviously, it’s a dream of mine to try and be in the 500 and win it. Dad raced it 10 times and there’s such great history there. It’s just such a cool race and I am doing everything I can to get into it, but it’s tough.”
One unique difference for Brabham over the last year is getting the chance to learn from one of the more versatile drivers in motorsports in Robby Gordon.
“I think he’s been a great role model for me,” said Brabham. “He’s just so talented at everything he does and he has such a large skill-set for so many race cars. That’s something I’ve never had.
“You know, I grew up racing open wheel cars, like most Indy car guys, and now I think when I go back I am going to be a lot better off just hanging out with guys like Robby. I’m in the dirt, changing conditions, nothing ever the same. The whole other side to that aspect as well is watching Robby work on the trucks himself and have such a good mechanical understanding of things.
“I don’t think any of the IndyCar drivers are driving the haulers, can work on the cars themselves, changing engines and helping all the crew guys out. That is something I really looked at Robby and really thought that is something I want to emulate. So I’ve been learning more of the mechanical side, working on my own truck, helping the guys change engines out and repairing trucks.
“That’s been really cool for me because it’s a whole other side of being a race car driver and reminds me of my grandfather, obviously when he was building his own cars for Formula One.
“So that’s something I definitely think I want to learn more about and I want to be more involved with everything that has to do with the racing as well as driving.”
For Gordon, he sees the potential in Brabham, as well as the commitment.
“He has raw speed,” said Gordon, a two-time Indy car race winner.
“Matt has a wonderful ability of car control and drivability. Pretty stoked for him and his career and I hope he does get to return to go back to Indy. Obviously, that’s his dream and that’s what he wants to do and I’m just glad he’s just participating with us until he gets that true opportunity full time.”
Having been a 10-time starter for the Indy 500, Gordon has a better idea than most on what it takes to be successful in IndyCar and shared that advice to Brabham.
“Don’t give up,” said Gordon. “Be in front of people. He’s been to Indy, maybe not the best seat in the house, but going there to gain as much experience as possible.
“Obviously, on the race weekend here (at Long Beach), even though we race late in the afternoon, he’s over hanging out with IndyCar teams because that’s what he want to do. I hope SST can help advance his career as well.
With his involvement in several companies, including SPEED Energy, an energy drink company he owns, Gordon didn’t rule out the notion of potentially supporting Brabham should the right opportunity present itself.
“That’s something I would consider,” said Gordon. “We do business with Menards. There’s no reason we couldn’t do business with Meijer, or one of those. Whatever business we could generate I would put funds towards that.
“If Matt gets the opportunity to go out there and pedal that stuff, then we’ll see if we can get him in some rides.”