Corvette Racing Aims for Fifth Straight ALMS Victory at Infineon Raceway SONOMA, Calif. - Although their names do not appear on any deed or land grant, Corvette Racing drivers Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell virtually own Infineon Raceway.
Corvette Racing Aims for Fifth Straight ALMS Victory at Infineon Raceway
SONOMA, Calif. - Although their names do not appear on any deed or land grant, Corvette Racing drivers Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell virtually own Infineon Raceway. Fellows and O'Connell have won the GT1 class at the Northern California track four straight years with their Corvette C5-R race cars. They will put their winning streak on the line when they race for a fifth consecutive victory with the new Corvette C6.R in the Infineon Technologies Grand Prix of Sonoma on July 15-17.
"Four consecutive victories at any track is an impressive record," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "Both Ron and Johnny have a huge amount of experience at Infineon Raceway, and it's a track that suits our race cars. It's a handling circuit that puts a premium on braking and turning, and those are things that the Corvette does exceptionally well."
Fellows and O'Connell will be challenged by both the track's sinuous turns and their Corvette Racing teammates, Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta. Gavin and Beretta are on a roll after winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans and taking their first American Le Mans Series victory of the season in the preceding race at Lime Rock Park.
"Two hours and 45 minutes at Infineon Raceway is tough," said Fellows. "The track is slick in places and traffic is always an issue. In the races we've won in Sonoma, we've been fortunate to have smart pit strategy that put us in position to win, and Johnny and I have been able to keep the car on the blacktop."
O'Connell agreed: "Infineon Raceway is one of the most physically demanding tracks in the ALMS series," he noted. "You're never going straight, and never have a moment to relax. It's a race where a driver's athleticism comes into play.
"There are several reasons why Ron and I have been successful in Sonoma," he offered. "The two of us must have done a million laps around Infineon Raceway. I've raced in Sonoma for nearly 20 years, and I taught for three years in a driving school at the track. Ron drove for a Trans Am team that was based at Infineon Raceway, so we definitely know the circuit. We've learned where to be fast and where to stay out of trouble. Our experience has paid off with four wins in four years, and I hope it will put us in the winner's circle again on Sunday."
The NASCAR Connection
Fellows has competed regularly in NASCAR events at Infineon Raceway, most recently in the Nextel Cup event held on June 26. He started 43rd, worked his way to the front, and finished eighth.
"Racing in the Nextel Cup race might be an advantage for the first few minutes of practice, but after that it's not important," Fellows said. "There is almost no crossover between the Corvette C6.R and the NASCAR Monte Carlo that I drove last month at Infineon Raceway. When I first go out in the Corvette after running a NASCAR race, I find myself thinking, 'Wow, does this car go around corners!'
"They're very different animals," he explained. "The Corvette C6.R is a sports car that's designed and built for road racing. It has more downforce and more grip; the Michelin race tires are 2.5 inches wider than the tires on a Nextel Cup Monte Carlo. The Corvette's stopping power is tremendous. It's easily 1,000 pounds lighter than the NASCAR car, and it has carbon brakes like a Formula One car."
"I'm much more aggressive stopping and cornering with the Corvette," Fellows revealed. "With the traction the Corvette has, you can go straight to full throttle. In the Cup car, on narrower tires and with more weight and less downforce, you have to finesse the accelerator."
The Engineer's Perspective
"Infineon Raceway is an interesting combination of low-grip surfaces and high-speed corners," said Corvette Racing engineering manager Doug Louth. "The elevation changes make it a challenge to get the springs, the ride height and the aerodynamics all working together."
"At most tracks, the important corners tend to be right-hand turns, but Infineon Raceway's Carousel turn is a very important left-hand corner," Louth noted. "There is a big vertical elevation change going into the turn and then a big compression on the exit. We'll work to set up the Corvettes to put their power down efficiently and to have good transient stability through the esses."
California's wine country is one of the top destinations for ALMS teams, although the drivers typically abstain from sampling the area's most famous product during race weekends.
"Infineon Raceway is one of my favorite places," said Fellows. "It's a fun place to race, and the surrounding area is simply beautiful. My wife and I discovered a hotel with a beautiful pool where we can relax, and we go to dinner at an Italian restaurant on the square in Sonoma. I've never been to Sonoma except on race weekends when I'm working, so I've never been able to partake of the local wines. It would be a great place for a vacation."
"The first time I went to Sonoma was 1999 and I really loved the place," said Monaco resident Olivier Beretta. "First because it is California and a very nice place, but also because the race track is wonderful. It has fast corners, slow corners, and sometimes you can't see the braking points in the turns. Before I had ever driven on the track, I took a golf cart around the circuit and said to myself, 'Wow, this is a very special track.'"