Brabham savours chance to relive glory of 1989 Macau race
A night-time ride on a mini-moto gave David Brabham his first taste of the Guia Circuit, with the then 23-year-old weaving his way around the 6.2km circuit just before midnight, attempting to learn both the corners and the unforgiving walls that frame the iconic track.
A few days later, Brabham climbed into his Formula Three car and drove to victory in the 1989 Macau Grand Prix, beating the likes of Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen.
Now, 20 years later, Brabham is returning to Macau. But when he takes to the virtually unchanged circuit, it will no longer be in a mini-moto or in a Formula Three car. Instead, the 44-year-old Australian will take in the likes of Mandarin Bend and the Melco Hairpin from a hired car, reliving his Macau Grand Prix victory alongside the cars and taxis that have grown in numbers as the once quiet city has mushroomed into a bustling tourist and gaming destination.
Much is being made of Brabham's return. Certainly it is in part because the long-time British resident has not returned since his victory, but it has also been a banner year for the Brabham family.
Earlier this year, Brabham won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a victory he called 'the pinnacle of my career'. He followed the success by winning the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) title in his 11th year of racing in the series.
These victories were stacked upon historical milestones - the 20th anniversary of his Macau triumph and the 50th anniversary of father Sir Jack Brabham's first Formula One World Championship.
'I'm really excited to be honest,' said Brabham from Italy, where he was testing for next season's tyre development. 'Having not been there for so long, I just want to see how the place has changed and it's also been a big year for me, an amazing year really and to come to Macau tops it off quite nicely.'
This year also marks Brabham's 20th year of professional motorsport racing. Book-ended by the 1989 Macau Grand Prix which led to Formula One in 1990 and this year's Le Mans victory, Brabham's career has come full circle. It also speaks of his talent and perseverance.
'I think David's continuous success, quite apart from his exceptional natural talent, shows an extremely strong mental and physical fitness,' said Barry Bland, the director of Motor Race Consultants, which has consulted with the Macau Grand Prix Committee since the first Formula Three Macau Grand Prix in 1983.
'He's still at the top of his performance. Any team or manufacturer in Sportscar, a GT championship, endurance or sprint racing would have him as a priority choice for their line-up.'
Brabham's return to Macau may be less of a reunion than a passing of the torch. As Brabham celebrates, another Australian with a similar story arrives in Macau to contest the Formula Three Macau Grand Prix.
Like Brabham was in 1989, Daniel Ricciardo makes his Macau debut as the reigning British Formula Three champion. Like Brabham, Ricciardo won his championship in his rookie Formula Three season in a car powered by Volkswagen engines.
In 1989, Trevor Carlin helped run the team that led Brabham to victory in Macau. In 2009, Carlin, now the team principal of Carlin Motorsport, will run Ricciardo at the Macau Grand Prix after steering the 20-year-old Red Bull driver to the British Formula Three title.
Time will tell if the final piece of the puzzle falls into place, but with Ricciardo earning a Formula One test with Red Bull in December, one thing is for sure - he is definitely a driver to watch.
'He's a very good driver and has as much a chance as anyone,' Brabham said. 'I'm quite excited about his prospects and how his year is mirroring my year as well.'
Brabham went on to drive with the Brabham F1 team, won endurance races at Spa, Daytona, Bathurst, with his older brother Geoff, and LeMans, and competed in the British Touring Car Championship, FIA GT, ALMS and Petit LeMans.
His popularity is increasing. In 2008, Brabham was voted the most popular driver by ALMS fans and Motors TV viewers and this year he was voted as one of the two fastest drivers in the world by SpeedTV.com.
The entire family has been busy commemorating Sir Jack's Formula One World Championship, with David doing re-enactments with his father's Formula One cars and nephew Matthew (son of Geoff) doing the same.
'We did the Sebring re-enactment this year,' Brabham said. 'It was the first time I drove one of my father's old cars and it was pretty special to be able to do that this year.'
Sebring hosted the season finale of the 1959 World Championship. With half a mile of the race remaining, title contender Sir Jack ran out of fuel in his Cooper Climax T51 and was forced to push the car over the line to secure his first title.
Brabham, who prior to turning professional raced in Australia and worked on the family farm, will return to Australia after Macau for another celebration at the season finale of the V8 Supercar series at Homebush.
Still, before Brabham returns to celebrating his father's milestone, he will take a week in Macau to look back at what he calls the 'victory that minted my career'.
A photo exhibition at the Macau Grand Prix Museum will showcase moments from the 1989 Grand Prix, while Brabham will have a chance to watch four drivers he mentors (Henry Arundel, Alexander Sims, Sam Bird and Max Chilton) all compete in the Formula Three race.
While Bird and Chilton competed in last year's Formula Three race and Sims in the supporting Formula BMW Pacific, Arundel will try to conquer Macau on his first try.
'Drivers who go there for the first time are at a bit of a disadvantage because you spend the first session just trying to learn the circuit, whereas guys who know it can really fine-tune themselves to the circuit,' Brabham said.
'It's difficult to go there and be quick straight away. For me, it was step by step and in the two races it just seemed to click. It was a great moment when I actually won and to sit there and think, 'I've won Macau'.'