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How Erebus struck gold with a pair of young diamonds

The new era of Australian Supercars had promised a fresh start for many, but few would’ve predicted the Erebus squad as the early standouts. But, as team chief Barry Ryan details, its rise with starlets Brodie Kostecki and Will Brown was all part of the plan and is one step on a bigger, long-term target to the top

Brodie Kostecki, Erebus Motorsport, Chevrolet Camaro

Barry Ryan took a huge risk at the end of 2020.

In the space of 12 months the Erebus CEO had gone from having a settled, experienced, mostly-harmonious and well-performing driver duo in David Reynolds and Anton De Pasquale to having, well, a rookie and a vacant seat. De Pasquale was poached by Dick Johnson Racing, effectively to replace IndyCar-bound Scott McLaughlin. And as for Reynolds, who was in the first year of a 10-year deal, the relationship during the COVID-affected season soured to a point where it was better for both driver and team to call it quits and go their own ways. Which they did.

Erebus had at least one driver exit covered by a long-term deal with well-rated rookie Will Brown, who had long been promised a seat for 2021. And then instead of looking for a like-for-like replacement for Reynolds – an experienced driver to help guide Brown in his formative years – Ryan decided to roll the dice on another promising rookie. Brodie Kostecki. The self-assured West Aussie had been drafted into the Erebus Bathurst 1000 line-up for 2020 to partner De Pasquale and impressed the team with his steely approach to racing at the highest level of Australian motorsport. In fact, it was while under pressure from Kostecki that seven-time champion Jamie Whincup crashed out of the race. At a time when the team was questioning Reynolds’ application, Kostecki’s no-nonsense, elbows-out style made a big impact. So, Ryan signed him up for 2021.

At no point has the risk taken by Ryan for 2021 backfired. Kostecki and Brown have proven over the past two seasons that they clearly belong in the category, Brown even nabbing a career-first race win at the end of his rookie season.

This year, however, there’s something different going on at Erebus. Kostecki and Brown have gone from looking like they belong, to looking like contenders. Kostecki in particular has started the Gen3 era with a splash, with a pole in Newcastle and his first two Supercars race wins at Albert Park. That’s left him leading the standings for the first time in his career heading to the third event of the season in Perth. It’s also prompted talk that Kostecki truly is starting to deliver on the promise he showed at Bathurst in 2020 – and is headed towards the circle of truly elite drivers in Supercars.

Moving beyond the very, very good drivers and becoming one of the current greats alongside the likes of Shane van Gisbergen, Chaz Mostert and Cam Waters. Not that Ryan thinks that’s the case. He’s convinced that Kostecki has long been an A-Grader – it’s just taken the move to the tightly-controlled Gen3 formula for him to really show it.

Ryan has overseen a transformation at Erebus Motorsport in 2023

Ryan has overseen a transformation at Erebus Motorsport in 2023

Photo by: Mark Horsburgh, Edge Photographics

“Brodie is definitely there,” Ryan tells Autosport. “He’s been there since we employed him, I think. He’s been ready to go. Mentally he’s just that bit stronger this year, because he doesn’t have to worry about there possibly being a faster car on the grid. That’s because of Gen3. It’s helped him a lot, and that’s a credit to the team for providing him with the car. Brodie has responded and he’s doing a really good job.

“He’s in a really good headspace, which is the biggest thing. He doesn’t believe anybody can beat him. He’s going into every session, every qualifying, every race, thinking he’s the best driver out there. He always has, to be fair. It was always just the question of whether there was someone out there with a better car or a better engine. Now that box has been ticked in his head, because the cars are the same.”

The fact that Brown and Kostecki were promoted to Supercars together makes it one of the more fascinating team-mate pairings in the category. They could not be more similar in terms of career-positioning. Your team-mate is always the first driver you have to beat, but in this case it’s not for internal supremacy (and pit priority during a race), they are competing, fiercely, to be the ‘next big thing’ in Supercars.

"Both Brodie and Will have said, ‘well this is what we’ve got – how can we make the most of it?’ They don't even talk about the old car. I’ve never once heard them say, ‘oh, this car doesn’t do this or that as well as the old car’" Barry Ryan

While the signs, at least from the outside, have pointed to Kostecki pulling just clear of Brown over the past season and a bit, Ryan is adamant there’s nothing to split the pair. The example he cites is Sunday’s race at Albert Park, which Brown was in contention to win until he spun trying to get past Mostert for the lead.

“I think they are both [A-Graders],” says Ryan. “Brodie has just shone a bit more this year, but Will could have won that last race at the [Australian] Grand Prix if that move had stuck. For sure, those wins for Brodie will open the floodgates. And hopefully Will can get another win as well and he’ll break through that same barrier – although in saying that his confidence is at a high right now too; he knows he could have won that race at Albert Park. He knows he stuffed up, but he knows he can do it.

“The best thing with those two is that they do genuinely help each other, and they are genuinely happy to see each other get a good result. For us that’s huge. And yeah, they push each other all of the time. Whether they are at home on iRacing, or whatever they are doing. Whatever they can do to make themselves better, they do it. And they help each other do it.”

The Brown and Kostecki team-mate partnership has also paid dividends

The Brown and Kostecki team-mate partnership has also paid dividends

Photo by: Edge Photographics

The move to the Gen3 rules has clearly helped Erebus, Kostecki and Brown move up the pecking order, with a clear trend that the Coca-Cola backed Camaros are as good as anything else in the field. But it’s not just the equalisation that’s played into their hands. While the tricky low-downforce cars have drawn the ire of plenty of drivers, there’s been a genuine sense that the Erebus drivers have accepted the flaws in the new hardware, and just got on with the job of maximising whatever is underneath them.

“Both Brodie and Will have said, ‘well this is what we’ve got – how can we make the most of it?’,” Ryan explains. “They don't even talk about the old car. I’ve never once heard them say, ‘oh, this car doesn’t do this or that as well as the old car’. They don’t care. The old car doesn't matter anymore.

“They’ve been positive about what they’ve got, and they are focused on making sure what they’ve got works. The engineers have the same attitude. If it’s not as good as you want it, who cares. Just make it as good as you can.”

For Ryan, the rise of his former rookies provides satisfaction beyond leading the championship. He was the one who took the risk back in 2021 and, if they continue to deliver like they are, he truly deserves the plaudits for doing so. Even now, he admits there’s a special pride that comes with their strong start to the season. “I feel that for both of them,” he says.

“We signed Will back when he was a real junior and we had the faith that he’d be the next best thing. And Brodie, well, Brodie wasn’t being looked at by anybody, even as a co-driver, when we signed him. We picked him up and straight away, for us, the biggest thing was his attitude. That was what impressed us and we took a chance on him and Will together as a pairing in 2021. So yeah, it is satisfying to see that pay off.”

The flip side of their success is that, should it continue, keeping them on the books could become a challenge. DJR flirted with signing Brown for this year, and Kostecki’s name is now one of the first mentioned should the likes of Triple Eight need to go shopping on the driver market. Another potential banana skin for Erebus is Kostecki’s ties to NASCAR. He grew up in the NASCAR system while living in the USA as a kid and has made no secret of his plans to run a limited US campaign alongside his Supercars commitments as soon as this year. A more permanent NASCAR move is far from out of the question.

Fighting for the 2023 Supercars title remains the main focus, but turning that into a lasting attribute is the next goal

Fighting for the 2023 Supercars title remains the main focus, but turning that into a lasting attribute is the next goal

Photo by: Edge Photographics

Ryan acknowledges that poaching could be an issue, but, with both drivers now on deals for 2023 and 2024, says the onus is on him and Erebus to use that time to become a Supercars powerhouse. If the team can do that, Ryan won’t have to worry about other teams taking his drivers when they are off-contract. And if Kostecki does head Stateside, the cream of the Supercars crop will be knocking the door down at Erebus. In other words, Ryan wants to be the one doing the poaching, if needed.

“That was in the back of my mind when we did the last deals,” says Ryan. “I had to lock both of them down for two years, and then make sure that at the end of that two years, they won’t want to leave. Because we’ll be the best team. The conversation is really easy when you’re the fastest team and there’s nowhere better to go. Hopefully it’s that simple.

"The most successful teams have drivers stay for multiple years. We need the right drivers in the cars and at the moment we’ve got them" Barry Ryan

“Brodie might end up in NASCAR, we might not have a choice. If he does that, then good luck to him. But at least if we’re the best team in Supercars, the best drivers will want to drive for us, so we can have the pick of drivers to replace him.

“That’s what my ultimate plan is. We don’t want to have to be looking for the next driver that we want to create over several years. We want the next driver that’s ready to win.

“But I also hope Brodie is here for the next 10 years. Like Jamie [Whincup] and [Craig] Lowndes, and Shane [van Gisbergen] and Jamie. The most successful teams have drivers stay for multiple years. We need the right drivers in the cars and at the moment we’ve got them. For the next year and a half we’ve got the drivers we want. And hopefully we can re-sign them after that simply because there is nowhere better to go.”

What can Erebus pull off this year?

What can Erebus pull off this year?

Photo by: Edge Photographics

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