While 700 horsepower might not sound like a huge amount by the increasingly ludicrous standards of modern hypercars, the 2020 Brabham BT62's defining statistic is the number that sits on the other side of its balance. Without fluids it merely weighs a claimed 2143 pounds. Even with oil, coolant, a full 33-gallon tank of fuel, and an average-size driver installed, it will still have a power-to-weight ratio superior to more than half the grid at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Which is why it isn't really fair to compare the BT62 to other hyper track specials such as the McLaren Senna GTR or the Ferrari FXX K. They are road cars that have been injected with steroids and sent to the gym to work out while they stare at their own reflections. But for the lack of a racing series to compete in, the BT62 is a race car. The company says there will be a street-legal version available in Europe and Australia, but scant minutes in the car's company make the idea of driving one on the road seem ridiculous. It sits on massive Michelin racing-slick tires—sized 265/35R-19 in front and 345/30R-20 out back—and the combined efforts of the vast rear wing and underbody diffuser are claimed to provide up to 2645 pounds of aerodynamic downforce.
The lack of road legality means that our time behind the wheel is restricted to a track, specifically Blyton Park in England. This is a driver experience center in Lincolnshire, which, like so many of the country's race circuits, has been built on an old Royal Air Force airfield. Its longest configuration, which we'll be using for our test drive, is just 1.9 miles. Yet, it's still long enough to prove just how outside the frame of reference the BT62 is.
Pure and Simple
Our first experience comes from riding shotgun with the man behind Brabham Automotive, David Brabham. The youngest son of Australia's most famous racer, Sir Jack Brabham, David fought a seven-year legal battle to regain commercial rights to his family name in Europe—one that, by his own admission, nearly bankrupted him. But as a guy who won Le Mans on his 16th attempt at the age of 43, he's not one of life's giver-uppers. The BT62 is the first model from what he hopes will ultimately become a brand, and Brabham Automotive has already said it will race at Le Mans in 2022. "We're a company," he quips, "not a car."
Climbing into the BT62's cabin is the first challenge, requiring a contortionist's dance between the bars of the massive steel cage that provides both safety and a large measure of the car's structure. It uses a steel spaceframe rather than a carbon-fiber tub. The bodywork is carbon fiber, and, barring the steering wheel and a small strip of microfiber below the windshield ("dashboard" is too strong a word for the BT's sparse architecture), the entire cabin seems to be made from woven composite. The steering wheel is straight from an endurance racer and is covered in dials, and there's a single control panel in the center of the cockpit with all information relayed to a digital display screen. There's also no ventilation beyond that provided by a small, flexible air pipe between the seats, and the windows don't open. Driver and passenger will have to argue about who gets their crotch cooled.
Within a lap Brabham has demonstrated that the BT62 is pretty much beyond any road-based supercar. The McLaren Senna feels like a grand tourer by comparison, Porsche's 911 GT2 RS a well-padded limousine. The BT is brutal—loud, hot, buzzing with vibration—and, in Brabham's hands, capable of generating lateral and longitudinal loads that pass beyond impressive and into a physical uncomfortableness exacerbated by the sweat-puddling heat coming from the engine and flameproof overalls.
Yet, once we switch and take our place on the other side of the car, the reality is that the BT62 is far less intimidating than the passenger ride suggested it would be. The first surprise is to find a clutch pedal in the already tight footwell. Most roadgoing hypercars have long since evolved beyond the need for one, but racers still tend to use a manual clutch for starting off and while trundling around slowly. This clutch bites abruptly but, once moving, the pneumatically operated six-speed sequential gearbox is paddle-shifted only and lightning quick.
A Focused Thoroughbred
Brabham hasn't officially confirmed the providence of the naturally aspirated 5.4-liter V-8 in the middle of the car, although we're fairly certain the basic block came from Ford's 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 used in the Mustang. Output is rated at 700 horses at 7400 rpm and 492 pound-feet of torque at 6200 revs. Regardless of its origin, the engine's state of tune is obvious: recalcitrant and bad-tempered below 4000 rpm, brutally strong at higher engine speeds. With no turbochargers to spool up, throttle response is outstanding. But before unleashing the engine we've been instructed to left-foot brake for at least half a lap. Unlike road-grade carbon-ceramic brakes, the BT62's racing carbon-carbon discs (15.0 inches across on front, 14.0 inches at the rear) don't really work without considerable heat in them. The Michelin slick tires also need to be brought up to temperature before they start performing properly.
There are some concessions to any less-experienced millionaires who end up in the BT62's tight-fitting cockpit. The car has both traction control and ABS, plus a variety of different engine maps that allow power to be restricted in low-grip conditions. The steering is well weighted and not excessively quick, and the ride is impressively pliant for something so extreme, which we're thankful for given Blyton Park's bumpy surface.
Straight-line performance is predictably savage but not outside what is to be expected in the hypercar realm. The company hasn't released any acceleration claims, but basic physics suggest it should blitz the 60-mph mark in less than 3.0 seconds. Corners are another matter. Racing slick tires and, through Blyton's faster corners, massive downforce give the BT62 colossal grip. The front end seems to faithfully do your bidding; only when carrying crazy speed into Blyton's slowest corners did we sense even the slightest hint of understeer. But the rear end is the surprise, willing to tolerate a much greater overlap of throttle and steering inputs than we would have believed possible in a car with so much power, the traction control intervening subtly to prevent sliding. While none of Blyton's sectors is fast enough to allow the car's aerodynamic package to extract anything close to its peak performance, the downforce can still be felt helping the car grip harder and turn sharper. The quickest corners on the track, a right-left-right kink, can be taken nearly flat out, with the Brabham carrying speed that generates genuinely painful g-force loadings for unaccustomed neck muscles. The BT62 has already broken the lap record at the Mount Panorama circuit in Bathurst, Australia. It doesn't matter what other exotica potential BT62 owners have in their collections, this car is going to feel like an adventure.
For Those with the Means
And yet, it's not an adventure many people will get to have. Brabham plans to produce no more than 70 examples, with sales restricted to Europe, Australia, and the more supercar-friendly parts of the Middle East. That exclusivity will be guaranteed by a price tag that converts to about $1.3 million at current exchange rates. An optional road-legal package, which will only be offered in Europe and Australia, will add roughly $190K. Ongoing costs will be considerable, not the least of which will be the mechanics who can help to set the car up and prepare it for running.
So, yes, ludicrous money. Buyers who are important enough to get onto McLaren and Porsche's most exclusive lists could have bought both a Senna and a GT2 RS for the same money. But this is no place for cold, green logic. For the thrill-seeking billionaire with at least one of everything, this could be the biggest adrenaline spike of all.
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