Matthew Brabham was filled with emotion after winning the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, holding back tears and embracing loved ones at his home racetrack.
It was a celebration akin to someone who won their first race in the series. But this was Brabham’s second career Indy Lights win, coming 2,851 days after his first series win in 2014 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He drove the No. 83 for Andretti Autosport in both races.
Brabham, 28, has been working for seven years to reach the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. He ran two series races in 2016, including the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, in which he finished 22nd. But a full-time ride in North America’s premier open-wheel series never materialized.
It’s been a tough road since then, and Brabham made the decision to return to Indy Lights, where he finished fourth in the championship in 2014, to recalibrate his career.
“For me, I was just emotional because it’s been so long,” he said. “I’ve been frustrated trying to get funding together and sponsorship and the right opportunities, having seats open up, and all that stuff that I’ve been working so hard on to get into INDYCAR. It just hasn’t paid off.
“I think the emotion came from all that work and being out of it and watching from the sidelines for so long and finally getting an opportunity to get back in and have success and win a race. It was special.”
After Brabham’s successful Road to Indy career, which included winning the USF 2000 and Indy Pro 2000 championships in 2012 and 2013, respectively, he jumped in just about anything he could race.
Since 2014, Brabham has also competed in Formula E, Australian V8 Supercars, sports cars and Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks, where he won three championships in 2018, 2019 and 2021. But all the while, Brabham had his sights set on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and open-wheel racing.
Brabham, an Australian-American, comes from a long lineage of racing. His grandfather, Sir Jack Brabham, was three-time Formula One World Champion, and his dad, Geoff Brabham, competed in the INDYCAR SERIES and had a legendary sports car career, winning four IMSA titles and the 1993 24 Hours of Le Mans.
As the 2021 racing season ended, Matthew Brabham found himself at a crossroads. He had virtually no racing options for the 2022 season until Andretti Autosport approached him about returning to Indy Lights.
All along, Brabham has been striving to get to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, but after several years out of open-wheel racing, he said he felt that throwing himself back into the deep end of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES would set him up for failure. With Indy Lights, he had the opportunity to “blow the rust off.”
“Last year the opportunity kind of just came about with the supporters I’ve had over the years and also through Andretti, who has always looked after me very well,” he said. “They just didn’t have any seats available in their INDYCAR program. I had some funding, and it came about where they were like, ‘Yeah, what about Lights?’ It was the only place they really had any seats. That’s when I thought it was a pretty good idea.”
Now, after winning the season-opening race on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Brabham’s decision to go back to Indy Lights appears to be the right call. Compared to his last stint – and win – in Indy Lights, he said this time, it means more.
“I think this one feels special just because of the time and preparation and work that’s gone into this one,” he said. “I think back then I had a completely different mindset. I see myself in a lot of the other drivers I’m racing with. I think I’m a lot older and more mature now, probably in a lot better mental space, as well.”
He also feels good about his chances moving forward. Not only does a full-time season in Indy Lights offer him the opportunity to retrain his mind to open-wheel racing, but it also offers him an opportunity reach the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The Indy Lights champion earns a scholarship that guarantees them entry into at least three NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, including the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
“I’m super confident in everyone around me,” he said. “Having a start like that, I’ve got the kind of experience and I know how to win championships. To have a start like that is just awesome. I don’t have to be desperate for anything anymore. I’m super confident. I’m feeling quite good for the rest of the year.”