Le Mans to Sonoma to Atlanta: Ron Fellows to begin Great Adventure BRASELTON, Ga. (June 5, 2003) -- Ron Fellows is about to begin his Great Adventure. Over the next three weekends, the Toronto-area resident will travel...
Le Mans to Sonoma to Atlanta: Ron Fellows to begin Great Adventure
BRASELTON, Ga. (June 5, 2003) -- Ron Fellows is about to begin his Great Adventure.
Over the next three weekends, the Toronto-area resident will travel to and race in France, California and Georgia, with each race carrying its own set of circumstances, personal challenges and professional importance.
The adventure begins with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world's most famous endurance race, at the Circuit de La Sarthe in France June 14-15. After returning to Canada for a brief two days of recovery, Fellows will then journey to Sonoma, Calif., to compete in the June 22 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Infineon (Sears Point) Raceway. He will be home for one day before flying to Atlanta for promotional events and then the American Le Mans Series Chevy Grand Prix of Atlanta at Road Atlanta June 27-29.
Fellows will be doing his "real" job when he races at Le Mans and Road Atlanta, driving for the factory Corvette team. He has been part of the winning team in the GTS class at Le Mans the past two years, while he is the defending GTS driving champion in the American Le Mans Series. He started the 2003 season with his second straight win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
At Sonoma, Fellows will be moonlighting, but his NASCAR participation over the years has not been taken lightly either by him or by his competitors. Hired by NASCAR team owners in one-off deals for NASCAR's few road course events because of his road racing expertise, Fellows has won three times in NASCAR Busch Series racing and twice in the Craftsman Truck Series, all at the Watkins Glen circuit in New York. He has led and finished well in NASCAR Winston Cup races on road courses, but is looking for his first win in NASCAR's premier series before, as he puts it, "I get too old and too slow."
For the 43-year-old Fellows, that opportunity may be at hand. At Infineon Raceway later this month, and in the Watkins Glen event in August, Fellows will drive a car fielded by Dale Earnhardt, Inc., as a teammate to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Michael Waltrip and Jeff Green. The opportunity came as a result of conversations that Fellows had with the late Dale Earnhardt when they raced together in Corvettes in 2001.
"I know this is the best opportunity I've ever had to do well in a Winston Cup race," said Fellows. "The resources that DEI has behind it, the time we spent testing, and the time I've spent around the Pennzoil crew make me feel more excited than I have in a long time."
Fellows has no illusions about easily beating the NASCAR regulars at their own game, despite his 20 years of road racing experience. "It would have been a lot easier a few years ago to come in and win," he said. "It's gotten so competitive. A dozen of those guys are really, really good at road racing, and the advantage they have over me is that they are in those cars every week and know them so well.
"The advantage I have is a consistent approach to road racing, and that it's what I do," he said. "Plus I know I'll have a good car. I never thought I would have such a chance with a top Winston Cup team."
But before his chance of fulfilling his NASCAR dream, Fellows and co-drivers Johnny O'Connell and Franck Freon will put their Chevrolet Corvette C5-R into battle at Le Mans, along with their team car driven by Oliver Gavin, Kelly Collins and Andy Pilgrim, with a very strong challenge expected from a pair of Veloqx Prodrive Ferraris. The bright red Ferrari 550 Maranello machines were faster than the Corvettes in the May 4 test session on the 8.625-mile Le Mans circuit, but the same was true last year when Corvette prevailed over 24 hours.
"They are faster than us, no doubt about it," said Fellows. "What we've got is a team that has learned how to win 24-hour races, and that's easier said than done. We've got that going for us. We have a car that is extremely reliable and we have excellent pit work, and we're counting on that again."
Fellows said that Le Mans presents its own daunting obstacles, in addition to the other cars that have to be beaten. "Le Mans is far and away the biggest challenge because of how the race is run," he said.
"For those of us in the Eastern time zone, it takes a few days to adjust to the six-hour time difference," he said. "And then the way the practice and qualifying schedule is, we run until midnight on both Wednesday and Thursday night before the race.
"On Saturday, the race doesn't start until 4 p.m., but there are a number of different things throughout the day -- a warm-up early in the morning, driver photo sessions, a parade and then finally the race starts," said Fellows, who also suffered a mild case of food poisoning during the race last year and missed part of his scheduled driving time. "You're really tired by the time Sunday night comes. It's a 40-hour event by then."
The Corvette team will debut a pair of new cars at Le Mans, then will race them in the seven remaining rounds of the American Le Mans Series after the Road Atlanta event. Because of the time needed to transport cars and equipment from France back to the USA, the team will use its race-proven 2002 cars in the Chevy Grand Prix of Atlanta.
"The new car is really an improvement in all of the areas that you hope to improve a car," said Fellows. "How it stops, going through corners and turning. It does everything a little bit better than the previous car."
As he prepares to set out on his world adventure, Fellows knows that rest will be at a premium. "You just have to rest when you can, when you're coming out of France and recovering from a 24-hour race," he said. "For the past two years, I've not had my normal amount of energy on the first day of practice and qualifying at Sonoma, but I've been fine by race day. Then there's no time to rest because it's on to Atlanta."