Former Grand Prix drivers Gary Brabham and Marc Gené are celebrating their birthdays today!
The second-born of racing legend Sir Jack Brabham’s three sons, Gary (turning 50 today) grew up on a diet of Formula Ford in Australia and the UK before winning the inaugural British Formula 3000 championship in 1989 and earning himself a test with Benetton.
Next stop was Formula 1, but unfortunately Gary got himself involved in the hopeless Life project, which was arguably one of the worst F1 efforts in the sport’s history.
Entered with the aim of showcasing the car’s unusual W12 engine – presumably with the hope that a manufacturer might pick it up and bankroll the effort – Gary’s stint was short-lived, failing to prequalify the car on debut at Phoenix when he posted a lap time some 30 seconds slower than the next-slowest prequalifier, EuroBrun’s Claudio Langes. Another prequalification occurred at the next round in Brazil – this time his engine blew after 400 metres of running on the out-lap – and Gary quit the team.
He returned to the British F3000 scene and then moved into a successful sports car career, winning the 1991 Sebring 12 Hours with his brother Geoff Brabham and former F1 driver Derek Daly, as well as a couple of outing in CART when the circus visited Australia for the Gold Coast round. He retired from competition in 1995.
A Formula 1 driver who dabbles as an economist is certainly not an everyday occurrence, and Marc Gené (turning 37 today) is certainly not any old F1 driver.
A title winner in the Italian Superformula championship in 1994, Gené moved to the British F3 scene in 1995, only to have the doors blown off him by team-mate Hélio Castroneves. Unable to raise enough of a budget for 1996, he concentrated on his studies before making the jump to Keith Wiggins’ Pacific Formula 3000 team in 1997, but his hopes were over after a vertebrae-smashing accident at Pau. Incredibly, he returned before the end of the year, although this time with the Nordic squad.
Unable to stay in F3000, Gené moved to the oddly-named Open Fortuna Nissan series (which would later become the World Renault Series championship), creating important relationships with team boss Adrian Campos and chief sponsor, Telefonica, who would both become crucial to him in the future.
Gené blitzed the title with wins in half the races he entered, and his success – coupled with Telefonica’s sponsorship earned him a seat with Minardi for the 1999 Formula 1 season. Initially not on team-mate Luca Badoer’s pace, he soon upped his game and brought the car home regularly, peaking with sixth place at the famous European Grand Prix where Badoer had himself retired from fourth place. The result was the team’s first point since 1995, and it guaranteed the team another year of survival.
Retained for the 2000 season, the excellent Gustav Brunner-designed M02 was hampered by its grossly overweight and underpowered engine, and no more points were forthcoming, and when Telefonica pulled out of F1 he looked to have lost his place in the sport.
But Williams came knocking with a test driver contract, and there Gené stayed for four years, becoming the first Spanish driver to be awarded a salary from an F1 team without the need of stumping up sponsorship in return. He made a one-off outing for the team at the 2003 Italian Grand Prix, finishing a steady fifth at Monza before making two more (and less impressive) appearances the following year.
It wasn’t enough to see him retained and he moved to Ferrari’s test roster, although he was very much second-fiddle to the primary tester, his old team-mate Badoer.
Gené has since forged a successful career in endurance racing with the works Peugeot LMS squad, winning the 2009 24 Hours of Le Mans.