Fellows enjoyed chance to share championship with teammate BRASELTON, Ga. - From the start of the 2003 American Le Mans Series season, observers could see that the ...
Fellows enjoyed chance to share championship with teammate
BRASELTON, Ga. - From the start of the 2003 American Le Mans Series season, observers could see that the #3 Chevrolet Corvette C5-R of Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell wasn't going to romp through the GTS class competition as it had for most of 2001 and 2002.
The highly-regarded Prodrive team from England was on hand with a pair of Ferrari 550 Maranellos and world-class driving talent. Team Olive Garden had stepped up its program as well, also running a Ferrari 550. And even in the next paddock, hungry and fast British driver Oliver Gavin had been promoted to fulltime status in the #4 Corvette, joining Kelly Collins in the other entry in the two-car factory effort.
But despite the competitive obstacles thrown at them, Fellows and O'Connell were again the leading drivers in the American Le Mans Series GTS class and emerged from the season as driving champions. The title was the second straight for Fellows and the first for O'Connell, the revised ALMS points structure having worked as it was designed, allowing them to share the title.
After winning five races together in 2001 and seven in 2002, Fellows and O'Connell "only" won three times in 2003. In addition, after winning at least one pole in each of the four previous years of existence for the ALMS, Fellows was shut out of the poles category. However, by no means did they have a bad season, and many competitors would gladly trade positions with them.
"I've always welcomed competition, and so has the rest of the Corvette team," said Fellows. "Bring it on -- that's why we're here."
The Prodrive team definitely brought on the competition in 2003, the Ferrari vs. Corvette battle capturing the attention of race fans around the world. The final score in the nine-race ALMS season was five wins for Corvette and four for Ferrari, with Corvette taking the coveted Manufacturer's Championship by only one point.
Corvette won the first five races and Ferrari the last four. The five cars were often on the track together, swapping positions, for long stretches of races. Two of the races went down to last-lap shootouts for class victories.
"We found new ways to win in order to get podiums and get points, and that's what you have to do to be a champion," said Fellows, from Mississauga, Ont., Canada.
Fellows and O'Connell, with third driver Frank Freon for the long-distance race, started the season by winning the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring for the second straight year. The extra points awarded for the win in the longest race of the series put them on top of the standings right from the start of the season and, driving the majority of the rest of the season with just two, they never lost the points lead, though the title was in doubt almost to the end. Gavin and Collins were still in contention entering the next-to-last race of the season at Miami, but when they were unable to start the race due to a crash in morning warm-up on race day, the title was clinched for Fellows and O'Connell.
"This was a great year for Ron and I," said O'Connell, who lives in Flowery Branch, Ga. "We set out to win the championship from the first days of testing at Sebring in January and we did it."
The two veteran drivers became teammates early in the 2001 season when Chris Kneifel, one of the original drivers when the factory Corvette team was started, decided to retire from driving and take the job of Chief Steward on the CART Champ Car circuit. O'Connell, who had driven for the former factory Panoz team in a Prototype in 1999 and 2000, had been hired by Corvette as a third driver for long-distance races but was quickly promoted to co-drive with Fellows for the full season.
They won their first ALMS race together as teammates at Texas Motor Speedway in March of 2001 and the rest is history.
"It's great to have a fast co-driver," said O'Connell. "But I can honestly say that I have the most honorable teammate in Ron Fellows. The guy has more integrity than just about anybody else I've ever met and it means a lot that we can call this title our own. It's also great when your co-driver is your best friend."
Fellows just missed winning the 2001 driving title when his car failed a few laps into the season finale, allowing Terry Borcheller to sneak past and take the title. Last year, Fellows clinched with a win in the season finale, but was champion alone because he had earned more bonus points for qualifying and race fast laps than had O'Connell.
Prior to the 2003 season, the ALMS points system was changed, doing away with all bonus points and allowing drivers who raced together all season the opportunity to be champions together.
"It means a great deal that I am able to share this championship with Johnny O'Connell, as it's really our second in a row if not for the different rules last season," said Fellows. "It was a challenging season and I'm proud of what we accomplished."