Matthew Brabham, a familiar driver with a historic family heritage, returned to the cockpit of an open-wheel car last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, offering a glimpse of his personal goals and where his sights are set heading into 2022.
Brabham drove the No. 83 Indy Lights car prepared by Andretti Autosport in the Chris Griffis Memorial Test on the IMS road course. It was his first time in an Indy Lights car since driving the No. 83 to an 11th-place finish for Andretti Autosport at Long Beach in 2015.
Brabham, the son of former INDYCAR SERIES driver Geoff Brabham and grandson of three-time Formula One champion Jack Brabham, relished the opportunity to return to a car in a series in which he realized much past success. On a 2.58-mile version of the IMS road course featuring the inner loop instead of the Turns 5-6 chicane, Brabham posted the 10th-fastest time of the weekend and completed 99 laps.
Brabham admitted that driving the car was a big adjustment for him given the wide variety of vehicles he has driven in recent years. Plus, the Indy Lights cars are much different than the last time he was in the series, and they feature much more downforce.
“It’s awesome to be back,” he said. “It’s definitely been a long time since I’ve been back in a Lights car. It’s a little weird coming back. Thank you to Andretti Autosport for throwing me in this weekend. I’m having a blast. I’m just taking my time getting up to speed, especially with the weather. I’m loving it.”
The Australian-American driver said the opportunity to drive the car arose when Andretti Autosport reached out to gauge his interest in driving at the test, which offers drivers the opportunity to test cars that make up the Road to Indy ladder system.
For Brabham, it was an opportunity to continue his lifelong goal of reaching the NTT INDYCAR SERIES full-time, which was on an upward trajectory nearly a decade ago. He won the USF2000 championship in 2012 and the Indy Pro 2000 title in 2013.
He completed a full Indy Lights season with Andretti Autosport in 2014, which saw one win on the IMS road course in May and a fourth place finish in the standings behind Gabby Chaves, Jack Harvey and Zach Veach – all of whom raced full-time in North America’s premier open-wheel series at some point.
Brabham, on the other hand, has not competed in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES full-time. He has two starts, both coming during the Month of May at IMS in 2016. He finished 16th in the GMR Grand Prix and 22nd in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 for PIRTEK Team Murray.
After his successful Indy Lights campaign, Brabham ventured into just about anything he could race, which he says is one reason why he accepted Andretti Autosport’s offer for this past weekend.
Since 2014, Brabham has competed in Formula E, Australian V8 Supercars, sports cars and Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks. The 27-year-old has found his calling in the latter, winning the championship in 2018, 2019 and 2021, with the 2020 season not officially tracking championship standings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, all along Brabham wanted to find his way to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, where his father competed from 1981-94. His legendary grandfather made five Indianapolis 500 starts in the 1960s and early ‘70s.
Brabham said his realistic goal heading into 2022 is to return to Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires. From there, he’s hoping a successful season can land him a ride with the big dogs.
“I think not so much the INDYCAR stuff, probably more so realistic is the Indy Light stuff,” he said. “The goal is to just get back into it full time and work away at getting back in there.
“(To get back to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES) is still my ultimate goal. I’d love to be back racing INDYCAR, and this is obviously a great way to do it, especially with a lot of stuff changing next year. I’m excited to see how it all plays out, and hopefully I’m all a part of it. Obviously, that’s the end goal is the INDYCAR stuff, and this is all part of it too. It’s great to be back driving something that’s similar.”
Should Brabham return to Indy Lights in 2022, he would likely be one of the oldest drivers in a series filled mostly with up-and-coming drivers. In 2021, only one driver was over the age of 25: Nikita Lastochkin, who competed in 12 of the 20 races. Toby Sowery was second oldest, turning 25 in June.
At a test filled with even younger drivers testing USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 cars, Brabham joked that he still felt young. He turns 28 on Friday, Feb. 25 – the opening weekend for the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season in St. Petersburg, Florida. The 2022 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires schedule has not been announced.