F1 great Sir Jack Brabham dead at 88

by Robert Smith, Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 19 2014 09:16 AM | Updated as of May 19 2014 08:02 PM

Former Formula One driver Jack Brabham of Australia is seen behind the pits before the qualifying session of the Australian F1 Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit in Melbournein this March 26, 2011 file photo. Photo by Scott Wensley, Reuters.

SYDNEY - (UPDATED) Formula One great Sir Jack Brabham, one of the sport's most accomplished drivers and team owners, died Monday at his home in Australia after a long illness, his family said.

Brabham won three world drivers' championships and remains the only man to win one in a car he built himself. He was also the first driver to be knighted for services to motorsport.

"It's a very sad day for all of us. My father passed away peacefully at home at the age of 88 this morning," son David Brabham said in a statement.

"He lived an incredible life, achieving more than anyone would ever dream of and he will continue to live on through the astounding legacy he leaves behind."

The Australian won drivers' championships in 1959 and 1960 with the Cooper Racing Team and again in 1966 in his own Brabham car.

The motorsport world mourned his passing with fellow Australian Formula One champion Alan Jones hailing him as "inspirational".

"I think he was inspirational for any young bloke that wanted to go across overseas and race cars," said Jones, who won the world championship in 1980.

"He was the man they looked up to and he was the man they wanted to emulate."

The Confederation of Australian Motorsport (CAMS) revered the F1 trailblazer, known as "Black Jack."

"Always a man of few words -- his nickname 'Black Jack' referred to both his dark hair and his propensity for maintaining a shadowy silence -- he avoided small talk and was undemonstrative in the extreme," a statement on the CAMS website said.

"But behind the wheel he was anything but shy and retiring. He put his head down and drove exceedingly forcefully."

Brabham's first two titles in the Cooper Climax marked the end of the era of front-engined Formula 1 cars.

In 1959 he famously ran out of fuel at the United States Grand Prix and pushed his car across the finish line to take fourth place and become Australia's first Formula 1 world champion.

Brabham, a former Royal Australian Air Force mechanic, in later years recounted the amazing tale.

"My car ran out of petrol about half a mile from the end. I couldn't do anything but just coast to a stop," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"I eventually stopped about 100 yards from the finishing line, and I started pushing. If anybody assisted me, I'd be disqualified.

"It was a big thrill to me to find out after I was exhausted on the ground, I found out that I'd actually won the championship. It was a fantastic thing."

In 1966, he became the only driver to win the world championship in a car bearing his own name -- the Brabham BT19 Repco, which he designed and built himself. He also won the constructors' championship that year, and again in 1967.

Brabham started in 126 Grand Prix from 1955 to 1970, amassing 14 wins, 31 podiums, 13 pole positions and 12 fastest laps.

Acclaimed as one of the best driver-engineers to have competed, technological innovations brought about by the team he created helped shape the sport.

Through his partnership with Ron Tauranac, more than 500 Brabham race cars were built from the team's British base in the 1960s alone, while the Brabham name continued in Formula One for 30 years.

He claimed his final win in the 1970 South African Grand Prix before retiring that year.

Briton Stirling Moss, one of his fiercest rivals, told the ABC in 2009 that Brabham was always held in the highest esteem in racing circles.

"Sir Jack was the first Australian to come over and really make a mark. I mean, he is after all, he is one of the best known Australians in the world," he said.

Brabham was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1967 and became the first driver to be knighted for services to motorsport in 1979.

In his final years, he battled failing eyesight and problems with his kidneys and liver.

He died at his home on Australia's Gold Coast just a day after appearing at a local airport at Queensland state's Sunshine Coast, where he was reunited with the 1967 BT23 race car he designed and built.

Brabham is survived by his wife, Margaret, and sons Geoff, Gary and David.

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