The second installment of my new set of features looking at each driver from the 2001 Rockingham 500.
My next series of features will be looking at each driver who competed in my first ever major international motorsport race, the 2001 Rockingham 500, the first time the American CART Championship had raced in the UK since 1979.
Having been confirmed the previous July, the race was held in front of 38,000 people who witnessed, at the time, the fastest ever laps on a British circuit, with cars hitting speeds of over 215 mph. It was also the first full length oval race in the UK since before the war, when cars roared round Brooklands.
I was seven when I watched the action at a very cold Rockingham, I remember my parents either side of me keeping me warm. However I also remember the excitement of watching a major motorsport event trackside for the first time, having been to the official opening that May. The speed the cars hit was mind blowing and something I can still recall now.
The race was won by Gil de Ferran who executed a superb move on the last lap to beat Swede Kenny Brack. It is the 2001 CART runner up who I will be looking at next.
Kenny Brack was born on the 21st March 1966 in the small Swedish town Arvika, a place which has a population of just over 14,000 people. The town has a heave industrial presence as Volvo has a factory in the town which employs the majority of Arvika’s population.
Kenny grew up in the village of Glava where his father taught him how to drive on the frozen lakes during the winters, making his racing debut at the age of 13, when his neighbour introduced him to the sport after buying him a go-kart.
Brack graduated to cars by the age of twenty, winning the 1986 Swedish Junior Formula Ford championship, his first in single seaters, before racing in Europe as well as Britain.
By 1988, Brack had graduated to Formula 3, winning four times over two years in the championship prior to moving to European Formula Opel for the next two seasons in 1990 and 1991.
For a single season in 1992, Kenny entered the Scandinavian Renault Clio Cup with his own team Brack Racing. Brack dominated the season, starting from pole and winning the most during the year also claiming eight poles and nine victories. It ensured Brack ended the season as champion with 160 points, 25 more than his closest rival Jan Nilsson.
This was his second championship success in cars, gaining momentum he hoped to build on as he switched to America for the first time in his career ahead of the 1993 season, competing in the Barber Saab Pro Series. The series was one of the first professional open-wheel spec series in America and ran from 1986 though to 2003.
The 1993 season consisted of twelve rounds on both road courses and ovals, of which Brack contested nine. Of the nine races he entered, he won six, winning his second championship in as many years.
For 1994, Brack made the jump to International Formula 3000 joining Madgwick International alongside Belgian Mikke Van Hool. Being in the equivalent of Formula 2 saw Brack pitched up against some of the best young drivers in the world, such as future CART rivals Gil de Ferran and Max Papis, to which Brack stepped up to the challenge, his result improving as the season went on with a best result of third at Spa, his first podium in the series.
Kenny ended the season eleventh with five points and remained in F3000 for 1995, once more with Madgwick International now alongside Brazilian Marcos Gueiros. It was a much more competitive season for Brack who only finished outside the points twice all season on his way to fourth in the standings, in a year in which he took his first F3000 victory at the final race in France.
As well as his first victory he also finished on the podium an additional two times, ending the year on 24 points. In what proved to be Brack’s final season in F3000, Kenny moved to reigning champions Super Nova Racing for 1996, the team co-founded by David Sears, the son of former BTCC legend Jack Sears.
Similar to his first season the grid was full of future stars including Ricardo Zonta, Tom Kristensen and Cristiano da Matta
Brack was once again joined by Marcos Gueiros with the Swede now immediately on the pace, starting the year as he ended 1995 by winning. A second swiftly followed with he and German Jorg Muller battling for the title all season. Brack would win at Hockenheim and Silverstone that year and went into the final round, again held at Hockenheim, with a chance of the title. However controversy reigned as he clashed with Muller forcing the German to retire. Brack then ignored a subsequent black flag ensuring he was disqualified from the race and despite finishing first on the road, he missed out on the title to Muller. Had he come in he would have been crown champion.
1996 also saw Brack become test driver for Arrows although he left the team halfway through the season to concentrate on his F3000 commitments. It would be the closest he would come to Formula 1 as he joined the fledgling Indy Racing League for 1997 with Galles Racing, contesting seven rounds in which he achieved two fifth place finishes, ending the season an impressive nineteenth despite missing the vast majority of the season.
His fine form resulted in Kenny joining A.J. Foyt Enterprises for 1998 racing up against the likes of Davey Hamilton, Tony Stewart and Buddy Lazier. Kenny’s season started slowly however finishing the first two races of the season in thirteenth and fourteenth place respectively before a sixth at the Indy 500.
A single podium at Texas was all Kenny had to show for the first half of the 1998 season however come Charlotte at the end of July, Brack won his first Indy Racing League race, beating Jeff Ward and Tony Stewart for victory. A further two victories on the bounce followed at Pikes Peak and Atlanta, propelling him up the order, resulting in a 23 point advantage over closest rival Davey Hamilton with two rounds remaining.
A fifth and tenth in at Texas and Las Vegas were enough for him to win the championship by 40 points, the first non American Champion of the IRL. It was an amazing achievement considering it was his first full season in America, where getting acclimatised to ovals is often a long and daunting process.
Kenny remained with A.J. Foyt Enterprises for 1999 alongside Billy Boat, and again he struggled in the early stages of the season, failing to finish in the top twenty of the opening two rounds of the season before the cancellation of round three at Charlotte after a lap 61 crash which sadly resulted in the deaths of three spectators.
The next race of the season was the Indy 500 a race which Brack contested for the win along with Robby Gordon and Arie Leyendyk. Brack and Leyendyk led over 60 laps of the race, however after Leyendyk crashed out of the lead on lap 117 it became a two horse race between Brack and Gordon. It looked as through Brack was going to finish second behind Gordon, who, with two laps to go was leading. However agony struck Gordon as he ran out of fuel in sight of the white flag, gifting the Swede victory, in the process becoming the first Scandinavian to win the great race.
It was also Foyt’s “fifth victory” at Indy, having won the race four times as a driver in 1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977. It set Brack up for the remainder of the season finishing on the podium a further three times eventually ending the season second.
It would prove to be his final season in the IRL, for the time being, as he switched to the then more popular CART championship for 2000, joining Team Rahal alongside former F3000 rival Max Papis.
Brack’s form remained following the switch to CART, ending the season as Rookie of the Year, finishing fourth overall with 135 points, only behind Penske’s de Ferran, Adrian Fernandez and Roberto Moreno. The Swede remained with Team Rahal for 2001, my first year watching CART, with the intention of mounting a title assault. His title aspirations were clear from the beginning, winning back to back at Montegi and Milwaukee storming into a 23 point lead after just six rounds.
Kenny would win again later in the year at Chicago and in Germany prior to finishing second to de Ferran at Rockingham, in which he lost the lead after an amazing move by the Brazilian on the last lap of the race. De Ferran won again in Texas, pulling away from Brack as Kenny ended the year second, de Ferran’s consistency proving the decisive factor.
It was Team Rahal’s final season in CART as they switched to the IRL however Brack remained in the CART series for 2002 with Chip Ganassi, contesting the season as well as the Indy 500 for the legendary team.
Results were not as strong though sadly and despite winning at the final race in Mexico, he ended the season sixth. I remember watching him that year at Rockingham once more, a race he dominated all the way through, however at the final stops a mechanic dropped a wheel nut and dropped him to ninth, Brack eventually finishing the race eighth. It ensured home favourite Dario Franchitti took his third win of the season, and his first on an oval.
2002 was Kenny’s last in CART, as for 2003 he returned to Team Rahal and indeed the Indy Racing League to contest his first season in the series since 1999. The series was in a much more competitive state to the one he left it in, with teams such as Penske and Ganassi competing with drivers such as Scott Dixon, Al Unser Jr and former CART stars Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves.
Brack’s return to the championship yield a single top three finish at Montegi in the third race of the season however his season was defined by a sickening crash in the final race of the year, in which his wheels interlocked with Ganassi’s Tomas Scheckter catapulting him into the catch fencing at over 200mph.
The impact disintegrated his car as it violently spun out of control across the circuit, his machine digging into the catch fencing as it bounced him back into the circuit, thankfully ensuring all spectators were safe. Despite horrendous injuries to his back and legs, Brack survived the highest g-force recording since modern measuring systems were introduced, peaking at 214 g and has thankfully made a full recovery.
Following the crash, Kenny made a one-off return to IndyCar in 2005 at the Indy 500 setting the fastest qualifying time of the event, however he started 23rd as he did not qualify on the first day, having replaced the injured Buddy Rice during the event. Coincidentally it was Rice who replaced Brack in 2004 while Kenny recovered. Sadly Brack retired from the race following a mechanical issue.
Since then Brack has not raced competitively and has now officially retired from racing, a great shame as he is a driver I have always admired. I was lucky enough to meet him a few years ago at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and was so pleased he was as nice as I hoped he would be, talking to me and my dad for a considerable amount of time about the cars he has driven and his time in racing.
One factor which I admire hugely is how Brack has managed his entire career himself, from finding sponsors and race seats to winning races and championships. He now uses his experience to manage other drivers as well as playing guitar in a rock band, his other love in life!
It would have been fascinating to see how Brack would have fared as he acclimatised to IndyCar once more however what a career he had, an IRL title and an Indy 500 winner, an amazing achievement for the likable Swede.
Pictures: www.sportsjournalismsgs.com, www.crash.net, www.sports.usatoday.com, www.flickr.com, www.theautochannel.com