Motorsport: Erebus in race to find stand-in driver

Aaren Russell drives the #4 Plus Fitness Racing Holden during the Clipsal 500. Photo / Getty Images
Aaren Russell drives the #4 Plus Fitness Racing Holden during the Clipsal 500. Photo / Getty Images

Erebus Motorsport V8 are facing a race against time to avoid a $300,000 fine after a driver and a major sponsor quit the team following a series of contractual disputes.

Team owner Betty Klimenko needs to find a replacement for Aaren Russell before this weekend's round at Ipswich's Queensland Raceway after the 24-year-old driver terminating his rental deal on Monday and handed back the keys to one of Erebus' two race cars.

Russell's major sponsor - Fitness Plus - also pulled the plug on a lucrative deal as the naming rights sponsor for the Erebus owned and operated car No.4.

Erebus face penalties of up to $150,000 a race should the team fail to find a replacement.

And in a further blow, The Daily Telegraph can reveal Plus Fitness will also pull a separate sponsorship deal with the team - worth as much as $100,000 - after Erebus ordered the team take down a promotional stand at the Townsville 400.

Russell terminated a contract where his family owned business - Aaren Russell Racing - leased a Racing Entitlements Contract from Erebus Motorsport V8 and also paid running costs.

"Unfortunately it didn't quite plan out the way we both expected," Russell said.

"And our views differed from what we first agreed to but things have ended on a positive note."

The Daily Telegraph last week revealed the Plus Fitness deal was in doubt following a stoush between Plus Fitness boss John Fuller and Klimenko at the Townsville 400.

Fuller threatened to pull his support from the team after Klimenko ordered down a Fitness Plus promotional stand that was handing out rubber wrist bands, which were being used by fans to wrap posters given out by rival teams.

Plus Fitness released a statement claiming Erebus had restricted the company from conducting brand activations.

"A key determining factor for Plus Fitness in sponsoring a rookie driver in a low Ranking Team was to rely on back of garage track activations," the statement said.

"Plus Fitness have been restricted from doing this due to factors outside of their control and for reasons they believe are due to the relationship between AR Racing and Erebus Motorsport.

"This has also impacted on their decision to withdraw."

Fuller yesterday admitted a separate deal his company had with Erebus was under review following yesterday's dramatic developments.

"I will be looking for other opportunities once the dust settles," Fuller said.

"I am talking to Lucas Dumbrell Racing but nothing has come of that yet. I like to think there is something workable there is the future. We have another deal with Erebus that is still in place but it will be looked at in more detail at a later date."

Klimenko last night said she ordered the stand down because of a health and safety issue.

"There were loose items that could have blown off into the garage," Klimenko said.

Klimenko was adamant the team would have an as-yet unknown driver secured before Friday's opening practice session.

"I have no idea yet," Klimenko said.

"We are considering both our endurance drivers and guys from the development series."

Dunlop Series driver Shae Davies and veteran Alex Davison are both understood to be among the contenders.

- news.com.au

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