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Driving

What is it like to drive?

What sets the Brabham apart is its engine. When just about everyone is moving to turbos and hybrids, what we’re missing out on is noise. Sound. Aural stimulation. The BT62 does not lack noise. 114 decibels on Silverstone’s noise meter tells you that. A level so far beyond the limits that the only time I can drive it, weirdly, is during a ‘noisy’ lunch break. Brabham is working on a muffler to make it track day compliant.

It shoots flames in the pit garage stood on its air jacks while the mechanics prep it. The noise is lumpy and uneven at low revs, but clears its throat as soon as you’re off the clutch and heading down the pitlane. Call it 4,000rpm in first. From there to when the red lights start to flash at somewhere around the 8,000rpm mark, the Brabham feels not modern, but more like an Eighties Le Mans throwback: immense sound, whining gears, instantaneous throttle response. It’s ultra-visceral and completely dominating. The low speed grip, traction and acceleration is massive – several times I came out of corners in third, reckoning I was on about 80 per cent throttle, but realising as I pressed the pedal further and the thing leapt - literally leapt – forward again, that I was probably only at around 50 per cent. It’s a mighty, forceful thing.

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But as ever with downforce cars, it’s not the acceleration that leaves the biggest impression. The Brabham hit 160mph on the Hanger Straight. I’ve been at least 10mph faster down there in both a Porsche 911 GT2 RS and McLaren Senna. The Senna is a very apt comparo. It has active aero, and above 155mph the wing moves to reduce drag. The BT62 doesn’t have active aero, which means at 160mph the car is dealing with something like 1,400kg of downforce. But when you hit the brakes – and you really do hit them, with everything you’ve got, as suddenly as you can manage – you just… stop. Well, provided you’ve got some temperature in them – 500 degrees ideally, then the stopping power ramps up. They’re not easy, because the pedal feels dead until the brakes get hot, and they always need a lot of leg power to make them work, which makes them harder to modulate. But yeah, the brakes...

And the lateral grip. With Michelin racing slicks and massive downforce and without being a professional racing driver, it’s hard to get close to. You need time to build up to it, more than you get during a Silverstone lunchbreak. Much more. But the precision of it, the feeling that – if you were brave enough – you could easily come through here 10mph, 20mph faster, the realisation that the car has limits way beyond yours, well, again, along with the noise and the brakes, that could be intimidating (Brabham, wisely, is offering a driver training program to owners).

But the Brabham BT62 doesn’t come across that way. Because the set-up is something quite special indeed. Before I drove it David Brabham had said “you’ll find the car moves into a corner very easily”. That’s not the half of it. It knows where the apex is better than you. The steering is light, yet super accurate and full of feel – as soon as you put the merest hint of pressure on it, it changes direction, but communicates the forces working on it, the lateral loadings and downforce, with real clarity.

So what you find is that the amazingly responsive steering is perfectly attuned to the super-precise engine, and with those two facets in place you can build a really good, deeply satisfying rhythm. And that gives you the confidence to push harder, to exploit the 47:53 weight distribution, to attack kerbs where you find the suspension is really compliant, and to push a bit harder through longer radius corners, particularly Luffield, where you just detect the first hint of some push understeer. It feels like it has a really short wheelbase, but tremendous stability – and all without a four-wheel steer system.

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But here’s the takeaway: initially you’re just along for the ride, marvelling at the drama and spitting fury of the thing, but within a relatively short space of time you realise this is a car you can get so much out of. It’s a downforce car that feels delicate to drive.

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