Sonoma: Team Monte Carlo - Fellows interview

Fellows, on heels of second straight Le Mans 24-Hour win, returns to Winston Cup competition at Sears Point. SONOMA, Calif. (June 19, 2002) -- Ron Fellows, with co-drivers Johnny O'Connell and Oliver Gavin, driving the Chevrolet Corvette ...

Fellows, on heels of second straight Le Mans 24-Hour win, returns to Winston Cup competition at Sears Point.

SONOMA, Calif. (June 19, 2002) -- Ron Fellows, with co-drivers Johnny O'Connell and Oliver Gavin, driving the Chevrolet Corvette C5-R, America's legendary sports car, scored a second consecutive GTS-class victory in last weekend's running of the prestigious 70th Le Mans 24 Hours in France. The win also marked the third victory in three races so far this year for the Corvette and the team of Fellows/O'Connell, after earlier wins in the Sebring (Fla.) 12 Hours (March 16) and the American Le Mans Series race held at Sears Point Raceway on May 19.

Fellows, 42, of Toronto, is regarded as one of North America's best road racers and has been GM's development driver on both the Corvette C5-R and the Cadillac LMP, which compete at Le Mans and in the American Le Mans Series.

This weekend, Fellows returns to Sears Point Raceway's 2-mile paved road course, one of two road courses the Winston Cup Series will visit in 2002, to drive for NEMCO Motorsports in the No. 87 Cellular One Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

Fellows' NASCAR experience includes three Busch Series wins (1998, 2000 and 2001) and two Craftsman Truck Series wins, in 1997 and 1999 all on Watkins Glen's road course. He has yet to win a Winston Cup event.

His relationship with former crew chief Brian Pattie (now with Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Nemechek's No. 25 UAW-Delphi Monte Carlo) goes back to 1998, when Fellows won his first of three Busch Series races for NEMCO. Pattie is replaced at NEMCO by Eric Phillips, formerly the car chief.

In last year's Sears Point Winston Cup race, Fellows qualified 13th, led laps 33 to 52, but ended up 38th after tangling with Bill Elliott near the end of the race.

Following is a Q&A with Ron Fellows:

ON WINNING LE MANS FOR THE SECOND YEAR IN A ROW: "It was just a tremendous, tremendous team effort. To do this (one-two finish in GTS) is very, very difficult, no question. We were better than last year and Pratt & Miller just made a tremendous effort as always. Teammates Johnny O'Connell and Oliver Gavin came through when I came down with a little bit of a stomach problem and they did double shifts to pick up the slack. Our Katech engines never missed a beat the whole 24 hours and our hats are off to Goodyear; this was their best effort as well. I couldn't be happier."

ON SWITCHING GEARS AND CARS AT SEARS POINT: "The Winston Cup car is a lot different to drive than the C5-R Corvette. The biggest difference is the weight. The Winston Cup car is 1000 pounds heavier and that creates a fair number of challenges on its own. The car doesn't stop as well, doesn't corner as well; it requires a lot more finesse. And, in actual fact, is more difficult to drive. But the advantage is that even with the lack of time I have had in those kinds of cars, I've had a fair amount of time at Sears Point. Johnny O'Connell and I recently won the American Le Mans Series race in the Corvette C5-R in the GTS class a month ago. That's helpful."

WILL WINSTON CUP CARS RACE ON THE SAME TRACK? "It's actually a shorter version, but the important parts are the same. The turn 1 to 4 section is very similar, and from 7 down to 11. What they miss is the carousel, turns 5 and 6, which is a right-hander, then the big long, up and over and down carousel, which is turn 6. There are two configurations they now have at Sears Point. They made this change for Winston Cup a couple of years ago and altered it to make it shorter, also creating an opportunity for the way they've structured this amphitheater-like seating in the hills. You can see almost the entire road circuit from there."

WHO IS YOUR SPONSOR, ETC.? "The primary sponsor is Cellular One, and the associate sponsor is Nortel Networks, and I'll be driving the No. 87 Chevy Monte Carlo out of NEMCO Motorsports owned by Joe Nemechek. We won three Busch races together at Watkins Glen, one truck race and our best Winston Cup finish was second at Watkins Glen, in 1999, to Jeff Gordon. I think this is about our fifth Winston Cup race together."

ARE YOU GOING TO MISS CREW CHIEF BRIAN PATTIE? "Oh, very much so. It's not like I don't know Eric (Phillips, new crew chief). Eric's been there as long as I have (as car chief), and I knew Eric from the (SCCA) Trans-Am days when he was working for Greg Pickett. He's a sharp, young guy. In terms of getting the car set up I don't really expect any difficulties there. Eric's got the information and he knows what I want. It's going to be tougher for Eric to call the race because it's so important on a road course. But, again, his background is more road-racing than oval, so we've got that going for us from both sides, he and I."

DID YOU TEST RECENTLY AT SEARS? "Back in late April we did sort of the official Winston Cup Sears Point test. We did fine. We didn't have the current Sears Point road-race tire so I'm hoping with all the stuff we learned we will be better with the newer tire. Primarily it's the age (of the tire); I don't think there are any construction changes. It's just that we were using a batch of old tires in testing. But basically the tire is the same construction; it's not going to require any later suspension adjustments because the sidewall does something different or anything like that. We should just go there and have more grip than we had at the test."

WHAT ARE YOUR CHALLENGES? "I really want to win a Winston Cup road race before I get too old and too slow. We're not regulars and Winston Cup is incredibly competitive. We're going to have to have the best performance-plus in the pits and Ron's going to have to have one of the best drives of his life for us to win. Can that happen? Sure it can. But, we're pretty serious underdogs. We're going into this like a hockey team with a one-legged goalie. But, hey, if you have things go your way and you have the right strategy and everybody has an outstanding performance, why not?"

WOULD YOU WANT TO BE FULL-TIME IN WINSTON CUP? "If I was 10-15 years younger I might consider it. I love road racing, and the opportunity that I've got with General Motors and the team, Pratt & Miller, this is a Hendrick-type, Childress-type, DEI-type operation. We just go to the biggest sports-car race in the world (24 Hours of Le Mans), one of the biggest car races there is, and they're talking 350,000 people in attendance. Bob Lutz (Vice Chairman, Product Development and Chairman, General Motors North America) is there, and Gary Cowger (GM Group Vice President, President, GM North America). To have that kind of support from management for your road-race program feels pretty good. I'm really enjoying it. It's not something I'm prepared to give up easily. It's not some stopgap. I think, although it doesn't get nearly the level of notoriety that Winston Cup does, if the people saw the number of teams, the factory supported teams in sport-car racing, in particular (in) the American Le Mans Series and at Le Mans, if they saw the level of personnel, equipment, commitment, facilities, I think they'd be very, very impressed."

ON RACING AGAINST YOUR TEAM OWNER, JOE NEMECHEK: "We've been there before. That's no big deal. At Watkins Glen a couple of years ago I had to start at the back and we raced a little bit together at one point in the race. It was fun. It would be interesting if we were sharing a radio channel, but we won't be."

DO YOU HELP HIM, DOES HE HELP YOU, OR BOTH? "It goes both ways. I'm more familiar with road racing and he's more familiar with the car. It goes both ways. Joe's a good guy. He gave me a great opportunity way back in 1998 to step in for him. We've as a team done pretty well when we've showed up, certainly at road races."

WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR? YOU WERE LEADING NEARLY HALFWAY, BUT ENDED UP 38TH? "We had a problem with the left rear in the last pit stop and got way behind and I made a call on tire pressure. That didn't work either; we were not quite as quick to bust through the field, and it was eight laps to go and I had a coming together with Bill Elliott. I had just passed him for 10th place."

-tmc-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Joe Nemechek , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Oliver Gavin , Greg Pickett
Teams NEMCO Motorsports