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Taking Their Time for a Sunday Drive : Brabham, Forbes-Robinson Try Something Different in 6-Hour Grand Prix at Riverside

April 23, 1986|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

Geoff Brabham and Elliott Forbes-Robinson, race drivers on a busman's holiday, will team to drive the Nissan ZX-Turbo prototype in Sunday's Los Angeles Times/Ford Grand Prix of Endurance.

Brabham drives Indy cars, having finished third in Rick Galles' Lola in the Long Beach Grand Prix earlier this month. The next race is the Indianapolis 500 May 25.

Forbes-Robinson drives a Buick in the Trans Am series for John Schneider of Dallas, but that season will not start until May 18.

Both have special reasons for wanting to hone their skills in the $164,000 six-hour race at Riverside International Raceway.

Brabham wanted an opportunity to drive in a long-distance race to prepare himself for the three-hour, 500-mile grind at Indianapolis. Forbes-Robinson wanted to drive at Riverside because the 3.25-mile road course is the site of the first Trans Am race.

They tested the Nissan last week, before and after the Long Beach Grand Prix, to familiarize themselves with the exotic creation from Don Devendorf's Electramotive Engineering shop in El Segundo. Devendorf, an electronics engineer for Hughes Aircraft, designs, builds and races cars on the side.

Both Brabham and Forbes-Robinson found the 1,875-pound Nissan quite different from their usual equipment--but for opposite reasons.

"Compared with my Indy car, it is heavier and it took me a little while to feel comfortable," Brabham said. "I haven't driven anything that heavy for quite a while. Even though it's a bigger car, I felt hemmed in. I'm not used to sitting inside with a roof as opposed to sitting with my head out in the open. There is less visibility in the GTP car."

Forbes-Robinson said: "The Nissan is 400 to 500 pounds lighter than my Trans Am Buick, but it has 300 more horsepower. That made for speeds that surprised me. We were doing over 205 (m.p.h.) down the back straight in the first few laps at Riverside. At first I had a difficult time trying to see the pavement marks to tell when to turn left. It's only a kink in the straight, but at 205 you get to it awfully fast--and then Turn 9 is right on top of you. For a few laps it was kind of scary."

The turbocharged ZX is a unique package in that the chassis was designed around the engine, rather than the other way around.

"We took the total concept of the chassis and engine working as one," Devendorf said. "Nissan had an engine in its 3-liter V-6 and wanted to develop it for racing. So, we designed our car around the engine. Most constructors build a car first, then worry about the type of engine later."

Both drivers praised the engine response and handling characteristics of the car.

"We ran it for three days and it gave us absolutely no mechanical difficulties," Brabham said.

Forbes-Robinson praised the ease with which it drove, adding: "It was quite easy to drive and I'm looking forward to driving at Riverside with it."

Forbes-Robinson actually drove it at the Miami Grand Prix, a street race, but under trying circumstances.

Devendorf and Tony Adamowicz were the listed drivers, but a virus sidelined Devendorf.

"I was down at Miami, just watching, when Don asked me to sit in for him," Forbes-Robinson said. "When the race started, I had never taken a fast lap in the car. I feel that under the circumstances Tony and I did quite well to finish 10th."

Last October, an Electramotive-prepared twin-turbo version of the V-6 sat on the pole and won a World Endurance Championship race in Fuji, Japan.

"If all of the elements--engine, suspension, body work and tires--work together, we should have a very competitive combination," Devendorf said.

Brabham, 34, and Forbes-Robinson, 42, are both expatriate Southern Californians who have close ties with Riverside International Raceway.

Brabham, whose father, Jack, won three world Formula One championships, bought a home in San Clemente after coming to the United States from his native Australia. Last fall, he pulled up stakes and moved to Noblesville, Ind.

"We bought a place on a lake and are looking forward to summer," Brabham said. "It's ideal for the 500. It's only an easy 40-minute drive to the Speedway. Staying in a hotel the whole month of May can be hard on you. This way, I'll be able to go home, sleep in my own bed and feel much better when it's time to drive."

Forbes-Robinson lived in La Crescenta for nearly 30 years before he moved his family to Denver, N.C., in 1981 to campaign a stock car on the NASCAR circuit.

"We're on a lake, too," he said. "It would be a lot easier this week if we still lived in La Crescenta, but we love it in North Carolina. The kids have a ball on the lake and in the woods around our place."

Forbes-Robinson might have been the first person to drive on the Riverside track, even though he wasn't old enough to have a driver's license. His father was general manager of the track when it was under construction in the mid-1950s.

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