FEATURE: JACK LE BROCQ – JACK BE QUICK
Jack Le Brocq is writing some history in Super2 this season, the first driver to take Pole and race wins in a Nissan Altima. He wants to win the series – but his eyes are already on what lies beyond
By PHIL BRANAGAN
SOMETIMES IN motor racing – not often but sometimes – something happens that makes an eyebrow raise.
If Nissan coming into Supercars four years ago was not completely unexpected, the idea of Altimas in what is now the
Dunlop Super2 Series caught a few people wrong-footed. It’s not that the Altimas were not expected to be frontrunners in the second-tier Supercars series, it’s just that for nearly two decades the feeder category has been all about Holdens and Fords, and that’s it.
But it fits. And Jack Le Brocq is doing most of the fitting.
It should not be a surprise. Le Brocq is a front-running driver; MW Motorsport, the team he rejoined for his 2017 season, has an established pedigree. And the Altima Supercar is… well, while it has not set the world on fire at the highest level, any shortcomings it may have one some circuits would look slightly less critical at S2 level.
MW boss Matt White is not surprised that his team has gone as well as it has as soon as it has.
“Not at all,” he said at Phillip Island. “Fast cars, good drivers. This is what we expected.”
And expectations are high. Le Brocq looked like the man to beat in the Dunlops last year but had to give best to Prodrive teammate Garry Jacobson in the final reckoning.
“Last year we had the potential to win it,” he says. “We had all the speed in the world, speed to burn, and then I made a few silly little mistakes that put us on the back foot.
“That didn’t give us the result that we needed, so yes, you could say that this year is all about making up for it. We learnt from last year’s mistakes and we have a good team and a good car behind us. So we need to knuckle down and win the championship.”
The expectations are high. Both Le Brocq and Jacobson look to have Main Game potential and the expectation are that one or both of them will be in the Big Time in 2018.
Le Brocq is patient – but not that patient.
“I am 24 now, but that does not mean that I can’t be in the sport for the next 15 or 20 years!,” he says So long as you have proven that you can do the job I don’t think that it matters whether you are very young – so long as I don’t get to 30 and I am still trying to break in!”
“I was hoping that I would not be this old and still trying to get into the Main Game. The sooner you can get there the better. Obviously everyone wants to be there as soon as possible.
“It is one of those things. We wanted to get there in 2013, but we didn’t have the budget to go racing. So I was prepared to hang around and drive anything and that is where Betty Klimenko and Erebus Motorsport helped out so much, to give us those opportunities. Barry Ryan was my Formula Ford engineer in 2012, and that is where that link came from.
“I would have liked to have been there sooner but it is just one of those things. We didn’t have the budget to go racing, to go testing and to make progress as fast as we can. So that has meant that we have to do the ‘slow route’ and we are getting there now.”
There were suggestions that Le Brocq might have made the move this season. With strong backing and sound management from David Segal’s Advantis company (which also represents Craig Lowndes and Will Davison) JLB was connected with a could of vacant seats for 2017 before his S2 program was announced in February.
“It was one of those things,” he says.
“A couple of doors were open last year, we were trying to pursue those and they closed. We were close to a couple of things, but unfortunately we didn’t play our cards quite right and it all sort of fell over.
“We had good team behind us, they were pushing us towards the Main Game. You have to be in the right place at the right time and even if you have all the money in the world, sometimes it doesn’t come together for you.
“That was when we made the call to come back and do the Dunlop Series again. Then we learned about the whole Wildcard program that was happening at the same time, and is a great opportunity to be able to showcase myself at Main Game level.
“We had a good budget and this allows us to make a step up. It was a good opportunity for Go Getta as well, they wanted to make that step up as well. Being able to do two Wildcards this year is a good thing, whether it will lead to bigger things next year, I don’t know.”
The Wildcards have added a fresh angle to the sport this year. The next round in Perth will feature fresh drivers for the first time, but not Le Brocq. His first Wildcard appearance will be in Darwin, traditionally a strong circuit for the Nissans. Michael Caruso won in the north last year and that figured in the planning for 2017.
Moving from the Prodrive Ford into the MW Altima held no fears for Le Brocq.
“To be honest, it was all positive. Nissan won races last year and they were particularly strong in Darwin. Rick and Todd and had good results here and there, so it was good.
“It was one of those things. I think it would have been nice to stay where I was last year. I have never gone year to year and stayed in the same car as last year. But it happened and you have to be able to adapt to a different driving style, but the Nissan guys have been awesome. They have put a lot of support behind us, and helping with MW Motorsport. I was not worried about coming back to the team; I knew that Matt and the team do a great job, from when I was here in 2015.”
So, with recent experience in both types of cars, how do they stack up? Well – even if Le Brocq admits that, even with his Phillip Island wins, he is still adjusting to the Nissan.
“The cars are different to each other. They make their speed back to front, compared to each other. The Prodrive cars and the Nissans make their speed differently. I think that it actually suits my driving style more, in driving the Nissan. I struggled last year in the Prodrive car and it was not until Homebush at the end of the year, probably, that I sat down with a couple of engineers before the meeting and we knuckled down on what I needed to focus on and how I needed to drive the car.
“I was getting a better idea of how I needed to drive the car after I did the enduros with Cam [Waters]. Homebush was a great event for us last year, and that was a testament to the engineers there helping me to understand exactly how I needed to set up the car. I was at the stage that I understood what I needed to do.
“They I stepped into the Nissan. It has given me a much more stable platform in entry and that one thing that I hated – have an unstable car on entry. That is something that just builds confidence; I am one of those drivers who, if I feel happy with the car, I can press on. When I have doubts in my mind, I struggle a little bit. I have been working hard on that; trying to push through when I am not 100 percent comfortable.”
One of the bigger changes has been moving from the engineering group at PRA to Nissan Motorsport, which is new to a customer S2 program, and MW’s, which is new to Nissans. One might have thought that it would be have been a huge change but JLB downplays it.
“Perry Kapper has been a great help. He is the head engineer and we bounce things back and fourth. We have not really gone away from what they are doing, we are sticking close to what they do and they give us a basic set-up for each race weekend. The cars have got really good speed but there are a couple of little things, like engine upgrades, that are coming up. We just need to get the one percenters all in a line, and I think that once they come it is going to be a very strong package.”
The obvious question to ask is, where will this lead? With Jacobson starting to look like a Main Game graduate – all the moreso since PI, when he ran in Mega Fuel colours for the first time – eyes are on Le Brocq to move up.
“I would like it to be [next year],” he admits. “I have always dreamed of being in the Main Game but you can’t count chickens before they have hatched. We need to keep plugging away and get there the best way you can.”
The obvious seat, of course, is Todd Kelly’s. Simona De Silvestro will be in one of the team’s seat for at least the next two seasons and with brother Rick and Michael Caruso looking likely to stay where they are Le Brocq’s future does look a bit tied to what TK will do.
Any questions about the move are expertly rebuffed.
“That [Nissan Motorsport] is a really good environment. I like working with the guys and Perry and Todd have been a massive help as well. It feels like a big family in there. I don’t know whether there is going to be an opportunity in there, we needed to maker sure that we had the best program possible for this year. Our intentions were, we wanted to do the Wildcard program, I have a good endure seat with Todd, so we can get more miles.
“The four drivers who are there will probably stay on. Whether there is an opportunity there, I don’t know. Maybe there will be something there in the future. But I would like to stay there, for sure.”
A lot of eyes will be on his performance in Darwin – and people will, inevitably, compare his lap times with those of the four Nissan drivers. Again, a straight bat.
“It’s a great place and Nissan has gone well there,” he says.
“That is one of the reasons why we decided to go down that path. We needed to go to a track where the car is going to be competitive. I need to go straight out of the gate get on the pace straight away.
“But, expectations? I don’t know. It is a different world and I don’t know where I am going to be. I will be happy to get some finishes and to get some miles. The aim is to learn as much as possible.”
And, what would he do had he not been a racing driver? During the week he works for the family business, installing Tattslotto booths in shopping centres, but if not for racing, what?
“I might be working for a racing team,” he says.
“I was studying to head down the path of being an engineer, and I was leaning towards that when I was at school. I had a bit of a maths brain on me, I was covering the Physics side and I was heading towards that.
“It has worked out really well. We didn’t have a budget and we knew that we wanted to step out of karts into some sort of open-wheeler. I started working with Bruin Beasley at Minda Motorsport and he gave us an opportunity, with the Formula Vee when I was running that in 2008. During 2009 I was in the same car and he gave me a test in a Formula Ford. I did about 10 laps and even in that time, I was not far off what the National drivers in Formula Ford were doing.
“He sent that data through to the CAMS Rising Star program and that is how we got a gig in that. I was lucky to get that opportunity with Bruin, I would not be here now without him. The parents have had to dig deep and I would not be here without my family, but I am grateful to Bruin.”
It does seem inevitable that there will be a new face or two in the Main Game next season. Le Brocq is well-placed to be one of them but first, there is a Super2 title to take care of…
Has there been a better year for the Dunlop Series than 2012?
What a graduation class. Scott McLaughlin won the title in a Stone Brothers Ford. Second was Scott Pye, driving for Triple Eight. Chaz Mostert was third for FPR, then came Nick Percat (Walkinshaw Commodore), Luke Youlden (MW Motorsport Ford) and Dale Wood (Greg Murphy Racing). It was a cracking year for the series; so many of those names, plus Cam Waters and Tim Blanchard, are no familiar faces in the Main Game.
Le Brocq likes the comparisons between the Class of 2012 and this year’s Super2 grid.
“I think that is fair,” he says.
“People have been comparing it to the year that Chaz and McLaughlin came through. Pye and Percat were there, all those guys. That was one of the strongest series, I think.
“This year is the same. We have [Paul] Dumbrell here, in current Triple Eight equipment. He has the best of the best in the car and I think it is a really good yardstick; if you can get near PD you know that you are doing a really good job.
“At enduro time I think that PD is one of the best enduro drivers, he has been the best over the last few years. He is usually in the top five or 10 drivers in the whole race, even among the other Main Game guys, speed-wise. If you get past him you are doing a good job.”
Date posted: August 16, 2017