A Stone Brothers Ford in action
Photo: Getty Images
On Wednesday, Stone Brothers Racing announced a merger with Australian GT outfit Erebus Motorsport that will make Mercedes the fourth manufacturer on the grid for the 2013 V8 Supercars Championship.
The deal will see SBR's squad - Lee Holdsworth, Shane van Gisbergen and Tim Slade – switch from long-time partner Ford to Mercedes-badged sedans, with engines and bodywork coming direct from high-performance arm AMG in Germany.
Erebus owner Betty Klimenko will kick in the estimated $12 million needed to make the deal happen, and neither Klimenko nor the Stone Brothers will rule out a full takeover of SBR in the near future.
But is leaving Ford the right move for SBR? And will Mercedes be able to find a niche in a traditionally blue-collar sport?
Next year, Nissan and now Mercedes will line up alongside Ford and Holden at the Clipsal 500. This can only be a good thing for V8 Supercars. The exposure brought in by the new manufacturers – particularly the German luxury brand – will in turn attract new sponsors, new dollars and new ideas to the sport. This newfound diversity will inevitably convince more manufacturers to put their cars on the track, further growing the sport.
In addition, brothers Ross and Jim Stone have smartly aligned themselves with Klimenko, whose passion for racing is matched only by her wealth. The colourful businesswoman has fielded Mercedes SLS sports cars in the Australian GT Championship since 2010, and will privately bankroll Mercedes' entry into V8s despite their reluctance.
The point of difference between SBR (Mercedes), Kelly Racing (Nissan) and every other team on the grid could attract new fans to the sport, which has been laboured with a blue-collar image for years due to the long-standing 'Ford v Holden' narrative. The breakup of this dichotomy could usher in a new era for V8s and change that perception.
For the Stone brothers, the split with Ford following a 14-year partnership is a gamble that may just be bold enough to land their first championship since 2005. At the end of the day, race wins are what matters. If a Mercedes E-Class V8 can get SBR back to the top then it is mission accomplished for Ross and Jim.<
A complete takeover of SBR is not being ruled out by either party, and from a purist point of view this is disappointing for V8s. The Stone brothers may have just signed themselves into obsolescence by taking Betty Klimenko's money, and the sport will be poorer without them. Purists will also be disappointed at the watering down of the 'Ford v Holden' battleground, and if Audi or Mazda jumps on board in the next few years V8 Supercars will become unrecognisable from what it once was.
The Stone brothers also risk alienating thousands of SBR fans who may not want to get behind a rookie manufacturer (even one as prestigious and storied in racing as Mercedes) next season. Some may jump ship to FPR or Dick Johnson Racing, who will field the seven Ford sedans remaining in V8s from 2013.
Mercedes-Benz's involvement in this whole caper leaves something to be desired too. While they have given their blessing to Klimenko and co, Mercedes won't kick in a cent to aid the project along; nor do they anticipate undertaking any sales or marketing activities to support the merger.
Mercedes' reluctance to pair their luxury brand with V8 Supercars' working-class underpinnings is well known, and despite giving in to the persistent Klimenko it appears the German manufacturer is less than enthused at the thought of the three-pointed star lining up alongside Ford and Holden.
The loss of the Stone brothers would be a sad development for V8 Supercars, but the introduction of Mercedes-Benz can only add prestige, power and eyeballs to Australia's premier motor racing category.
Everything about this deal points to a win for the sport in general. The world of racing is slowly infiltrating Australia's shores, and the result will be a stronger competition both on and off the track.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
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