October 20-21, 2012
The new face of V8s Meet the woman spearheading the Mercedes-Benz drive into the very Aussie world of V8 Supercars
It won’t be a factory or dealersupported entry. However, the team will access AMG technology through its customer sports program and the cars will carry Mercedes-Benz’s famous three pointed star. limenko grew up as the adopted child of Hungarian immigrant John Saunders, who co-founded Westfield with Frank Lowy. Her family, according to this year’s BRW Rich List, is the 12th wealthiest in the country thanks to retail, commercial, industrial and residential properties worth close to $1 billion. She says motorsport and the V8s are her chance to make her mark in the world in her own right. ‘‘When you grow up as the child of someone who has changed the face of Australia it’s very hard to be in the same business and leave your own mark,’’ she says. ‘‘So I decided to make my own footprint in a different genre.’’ For Klimenko, getting the threepointed star of Mercedes-Benz fixed to her V8 cars is bigger and better than any shopping centre could be. ‘‘Getting that star – that’s all I wanted was the star,’’ she says emphatically. Erebus already had a close relationship with Mercedes-Benz through its GT cars but the luxury car manufacturer was worried the V8s did not fit its image. ‘‘I walked into Mercedes and said, ‘I don’t want anything. I don’t want money, I don’t need anything. I just want your little pointy star.’ And they did, granting me a branding licence. So the engines are actually Erebus engines but carry the star . . . which is a major coup.’’ She is adamant she loves the Benz brand and that her whole family drives Mercs so there’s nothing she’d do to hurt the brand. ‘‘Someone said something funny about it recently They said: ‘Mercedes, it’s a luxury brand. They have certain standards’. ‘‘And I looked at the guy and I said, ‘Are you nuts? Yes, they have standards and they are all about safety and reliability. Now look at me – I’m covered in tattoos and do you think if they cared so much about putting their noses in the air and having the luxury tag, do you really think they would give the star to someone who looks like she’s ready to step out into wherever?’ ‘‘They didn’t care. They don’t care.’’
he V8s are a blokes’ club. But it doesn’t have to be that way according to Klimenko. She wants men and women to be equal on the championship circuit and she’s determined to shake things up.
I walked into Mercedes and said, ‘I don’t want anything. I don’t want money, I don’t need anything. I just want your little pointy star.’
Betty Klimenko has teamed with Stone Brothers Racing to race MercedesBenz in next year’s V8 Supercar series. Betty is pictured left with Stone Brothers Racing owner Ross Stone Main photo: Glenn Hampson ‘‘Being a woman doing this, I think differently to a man. A few men have been very condescending – they pat me on the head . . . ‘yep, you’ll get sick of it in a week or two’ . . . but I won’t,’’ Klimenko says. ‘‘I need to prove myself twice over, especially in V8s because it’s been a men’s club for a long, long time. ‘‘Hopefully I can show them it does not need to be a men’s club or a women’s club, it just needs to be equal.’’ Her arrival on the scene is already changing attitudes with young girls having a female owner on the circuit to look up to. ‘‘I had little girls coming up to me
at Bathurst saying, ‘I asked my mummy if I could have pink hair in summer holidays and she said yes’. It was very strange.’’ he sights and smells, the sensory experience of racing, draw Klimenko to the balcony the first morning of a race to look down on the marquees and watch the last preparations put into place. She can’t wait to get down among the punters. ‘‘I walk out there and I feel the rush. I feel the people’s energy . . . I don’t go to a racetrack to go sit in a corporate box. I go racing to stand in the garage and watch the cars go out. Watch what happens. Listen to the
race. Be among the people,’’ she says. ‘‘I’m happy when I walk out there and people come up to me and go, ‘I know you, you’re the AMG chick, you’re the chick with the pink hair’ and I go, ‘Yeah I am’.’’ She’s hoping Mercedes owners will rally around the team next year. ‘‘Mercedes owners say ‘Now we’ve got somewhere to go’ and I say ‘But you did have somewhere to go – you had the GTs’. But in their minds it’s not the same and hopefully people who own Mercedes or like European brands will support us next year in the V8s and the GTs as well. ‘‘Mercedes is a brand that once you love it, you love it for life.’’