Don't Call it a Mercedes - 2013 Erebus E63 AMG

 

In 2013 V8 Supercars opened the door to new manufacturers. At the same time, Ford was concentrating its funding on Prodrive. This left Stone Brothers Racing without manufacturer support, but no one was interested. Mercedes-Benz certainly wasn't.

Erebus Motorsport was formed by Westfield co-owner Betty Klimenko in 2009. By 2012 they were a front running team in the Australian GT Championship, running SLS AMGs through the AMG Customer Sports program. When V8 Supercars announced the Car of the Future regulations, they saw it as an opportunity to step into Australia's top category.

To enter V8 Supercars, Erebus needed at least one of the 28 Racing Entitlement Contracts. That meant buying out an existing team. SBR were an established team, and although they had already completed their first COTF Falcon,were still open to selling.

Working with Mercedes proved to be a challenge for Erebus. AMG and their motorsport partner HWA were all for it, but Mercedes Benz Australia was opposed to the project from the outset. They even tried to talk AMG out of it,  arguing that a V8 Supercars entry, even a privateer customer entry, would damage the brand's reputation.

Shortly after the sale was announced reports emerged that Shane van Gisbergen and Lee Holdsworth wanted to leave, citing doubts that the car would be competitive. The rumour turned out to be half true. Van Gisbergen later announcing his “retirement”. The then 23 year old had early in the year re-signed with Stone Brothers, on the knowledge that they would be running Fords in 2013. He claimed that he was burnt out and wanted to return to New Zealand for a break from racing.

When the deal was confirmed in September, Mercedes was keen to point out that they were not supporting Erebus’ efforts financially. They woudn't even allow the car to be called a Mercedes. Instead, it was known as the Erebus E63 AMG.

“We have jointly with AMG approved an offer Erebus Motorsport the opportunity to purchase the requested technology and support via the Customer Sports program,” said Mercedes-Benz Australia CEO David McCarthy.

“Erebus is a highly valued customer and they have an existing relationship with AMG via the Customer Sports program,”

“We are not directly involved, and we have no plans to undertake any sales or marketing activities in conjunction with this effort.

“There is no Mercedes-Benz or AMG money inherent in this new entry – the entire project is funded by Erebus Motorsport.”

It was a bold move, entering V8 Supercars as a privateer funding the development of a new engine, but Klimenko was determined to run Mercedes. Her father was a loyal Mercedes customer and had passed that brand loyalty on to her.

The sale was officially completed in January 2013, barely a month before the pre-season test day. Ross Stone would remain with the team for another two years, while Jim left to work with his son Matt’s Development Series team. Van Gisbergen’s replacement was still to be announced.

In the meantime, van Gisbergen had signed with Tekno Autosports, violating the terms of his release from Erebus. This kicked off a legal battle that Erebus would ultimately abandon.

The engine in the E63 was a 5.0L version of the AMG M156 6.2L V8. Development was rushed, but the engines for the three cars were completed on time. It was the first V8 Supercar engine with a flat plane crankshaft and electric power steering. It also featured throttle by wire and made do with two throttle bodies. When the specifications were revealed in November 2012, it was producing a claimed 485kW and 616Nm.

Throttle by wire and two butterfly valves were abandoned after Symmons Plains in favour of the conventional eight throttle body and mechanical linkage setup used by Ford, Holden, and Nissan. The change was made after HWA engineers joined Erebus in Tasmania and was intended to help them catch the other manufacturers faster. The performance at Symmons Plains had been a surprise improvement. Holdsworth qualified and finished 13th on Saturday, ahead of all four Nissans for the first time. The electric power steering was also dropped in for a conventional hydraulic system.

The team's best result a fourth from Holdsworth at Sandown. Holdsworth, Slade and Engel finished 20th, 22nd and 28th respectively.

AMG boss Tobias Moers was displeased with the E63’s performance in 2013.

It’s not really good where we are today in that race series,” Moers said.

“There is no sense to talk about we’re happy with that, no we’re not happy.

“They have to [win]. The aim is to win. If you race a car in a race series you have to win, you have to believe that you sometimes can win”.

A rough 2013 affected would affect the team in 2014. They lost Slade to Walkinshaw, then they lost the Rosenberg entry to Walkinshaw as well. All three major sponsors left the team and a permanent replacement could not be found. SP Tools and Heavy Haulage Australia had both gone to Walkinshaw, and Irwin Tools dropped out altogether. They still managed to secure the driving services of Will Davison on a four year contract. He was looking to win a championship and believed Erebus was the place to do it. Importantly for Davison he would have been the number one driver at Erebus. At Ford Performance Racing he played second fiddle to Mark Winterbottom. The arrival of Davison and departure of Rosenberg’s entry left Engel without a drive at Erebus.

Early in 2014, Ross Stone made the decision to start servicing the own engines in Australia instead of flying them back to Germany between rounds. It was hoped that this would help speed up development of an engine that had strong top end power but was still lacking in other areas.

Despite the lack of sponsorship, Erebus managed to improve their performance in 2014, with Holdsworth winning at Winton. As the slowest circuit in the Supercars calendar, Winton would proved less of a challenge for the power deprived E63s. The rest of the season was fairly ordinary for Erebus. Holdsworth’s next best result was a fifth, and Davison best was third. They finished 20th and 14th, respectively.

During 2014 Erebus was linked to a customer deal with Volvo. The speculation was triggered by a photo of Klimenko with Volvo Australia CEO Matt Braid, but was shot down by Erebus CEO Ryan Maddison. Both Maddison and Klimenko stressed that they had put too much effort into their Mercedes’ to abandon them after just two seasons. Their focus was on running E63s in 2015 under a new customer deal with AMG.

When asked about Erebus later on in 2014, Moers said “Well they have won one race. Give them some time”.

“They have a good driver, they have a very successful GT racing team … and if they can do the link between GT racing [and] V8 racing, with the potential of the driver and the potential set-up of the car I think it will be okay.”

Even Mercedes-Benz Australia was warming to the project. They expected the customer racing contract to be renewed for 2015.

Things appeared to be looking up for Erebus and their relationship with AMG, but their contract was not renewed for 2015. Neither party could see any reason to continue. Mercedes still allowed Erebus to run E63s and the AMG-derived engines which were now Erebus intellectual property.

2014 was Holdsworth’s last year with Erebus. He made a gentleman's agreement with Holdsworth to re-sign for 2014 but no contract was formally signed. Holdsworth later accepted an offer to join Charlie Schwerkolt’s FPR-cum-Walkinshaw satellite team. Filling the void left by Holdsworth was rookie Ash Walsh. Walsh had finished third in the 2014 Dunlop Series with Matt Stone Racing.

Erebus made little progress on the E63 in 2015. A lack of sponsorship had made it difficult to cover the cost of development, and Klimenko could not continually fund the team herself. She had already stated at the beginning of 2014 that the team had to stand on its own feet. Davison won one race, at Barbagallo, but an otherwise lacklustre season saw him finish 15th in the championship. Walsh only cracked the top 10 once and finished last in the championship.

Davison asked to be released from his contract early at the end of 2013. He felt that time was running out for him to win a championship and had the opportunity to race a Triple 8 Commodore at Tekno Autosports.

After leaving, Davison admitted that he had suggested a manufacturer switch early on in his time at Erebus. His suggestion was rejected as Klimenko had sunk a significant amount of money into the Mercedes and didn't want to give up. Ultimately, she was forced abandon the financially unsustainable privateer AMG engine program. Holden was the preferred manufacturer. Two Walkinshaw Commodores were purchased at the end of 2015, shortly after David Reynolds joined. It was described by Klimenko as a purely business decision, motivated by uncertainty over the championship’s post-2017 direction.

The AMG E63 experiment had been an expensive experience for Klimenko and Erebus Motorsport. Supercars operates very differently to GT3 and Klimenko herself freely admits she should have spent the first year with Fords to learn how it all worked. Erebus still has the V8 engines from the Mercedes program, and as Erebus IP, they could be returned to service the request of any manufacturer. Though it's highly unlikely that would happen under the new rules that allow four and six-cylinder turbocharged engines.

One can only imagine the relief  Reynolds felt when he found out he'd be driving a Commodore and not an AMG. Even if it was an ex-Walkinshaw.