Corvette Ace Ron Fellows Moonlights in NASCAR at Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway
Road racing specialist seeks his first Cup win
Chevrolet Corvette factory driver Ron Fellows has been a fixture on the NASCAR road courses for the past few years. The Canadian has 31 career NASCAR starts, including 3 Busch Series and 2 Craftsman Truck Series wins. He’s started 11 races in NEXTEL Cup Series competition, with 2 top 5 finishes. Most notable of those starts was 2004’s NEXTEL Cup event at Watkins Glen, where Fellows started dead last and climbed all the way up to second place at the end.
This week is especially significant for Fellows and Chevrolet as he is returning from the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, where he notched his fourth podium finish. Fellows’ teammates won the event in the GT1 class, a fourth win in five years for the GM Small Block at the world’s most prestigious endurance event. This weekend, Fellows will pilot another GM Small Block race car, the #32 Tide Chevrolet NASCAR race car, in hopes of capturing his first NEXTEL Cup win. 2005 is the 50th Anniversary of the legendary GM Small Block V-8 engine.
We sat down with Fellows in the paddock at the 24 Hours of Le Mans to discuss his rigorous schedule and the differences between a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup car and his Corvette C6.R sports car.
On racing in Le Mans and Sonoma on successive weekends: “The physical recovery from a 24-hour race takes days. On top of that we have the time change; from here to my home in Toronto is six hours, and then to San Francisco is another three hours. We’ve been in France almost three weeks, so it’s going to be difficult to adjust to that nine-hour time change, plus the fact that you’re tired after the race. Feeling ready physically will be the single biggest challenge.”
On his schedule: “After the 24-hour race, we’ll go to Paris and stay at the airport for the night. Then we leave France late morning and arrive in Toronto in the middle of the afternoon on Monday. We’ll take a day or two to unpack and repack, then fly to San Francisco on Thursday morning. We’ll take it easy for a day or two at home, and since we’ve had the entire family in France for nearly three weeks, we have a little laundry to do.”
Contrast between ALMS Corvette and Nextel Cup Monte Carlo: “They’re very different. The Corvette is a sports car that’s designed and built for road racing. The Corvette has a lot more downforce and the Michelin race tires are 2.5 inches wider than the tires on a Nextel Cup Monte Carlo. The Corvette is easily 1,000 pounds lighter, it has carbon brakes like a Formula One car, and the brakes are packaged inside an 18-inch wheel as opposed to a 15-inch wheel. You can put a lot more efficient brake package inside the larger wheel.”
“The Corvette’s stopping power is tremendous. The biggest thing you have to remind yourself going from one to the other is that the Cup car doesn’t stop nearly as well.”
“The Cup car has quite a bit more power, but the Corvette has more torque. The Corvette’s engine is restricted by the rules, so it doesn’t have as much horsepower, but with its 427-cubic-inch displacement versus 358 in the NASCAR car, it has quite a bit more torque.”
“You can be much more aggressive stopping and cornering with the Corvette. With the traction the Corvette has, there’s not much finesse involved – you go straight to full throttle. In the Cup car, on narrower tires and with more weight and less downforce, you have to finesse the throttle.”
Differences between 24-hour endurance race and 110-lap NASCAR road race: “In the 24 hours of Le Mans, you’re driving the track, not racing your competitors. You want to stay out of trouble, see where you are with three or four hours to go, and then see if you have to race. In Cup, you’re never alone; you’re surrounded by cars. It’s more a high-speed chess game when you’ve got cars in front and behind you. That’s what I enjoy about it, and hopefully we’ll have a good result for the Tide Chevrolet team.”
Differences in how full-time NASCAR drivers now approach road racing events: “It has been a quick evolution. When I first had some success at the Cup level in 1998, we qualified on the front row and hadn’t tested there. In 1999, we finished a close second with a part-time team. That’s just not going to happen anymore. The level of competition in Nextel Cup has elevated tremendously in the last several years. Because of its popularity, there is more money in the sport and that brings more technology. The top guys don’t take off any races. In the past, they didn’t even build road race cars; now they build multiple road race cars, and test and prepare them very well.”
“A lot of the new guys have adapted very well. You see it in the Busch Series, especially at Watkins Glen. I remember Dale Jr. in 1998 when he did his first Busch race and qualified eighth even though he had never seen the place before. Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson were quick studies; they’re just great drivers. I raced against Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch in the Craftsman Truck Series on road courses and they were fast right away. It’s no surprise they’re doing well in Cup now because they’re great drivers.”
“You used to be able to count a half-dozen guys you were going to have to race; now it’s easily two dozen. Tony Stewart, all of the Roush drivers, and the old guard – I hate to call Jeff Gordon a veteran, but he is – along with Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd. There are a couple of dozen guys who have the equipment and the capability to win on a road course. It’s a tall order for us as a part-time guy.”
On the NASCAR track: “I think what they’ve done with Infineon Raceway for Nextel Cup cars is perfect. It makes for better racing for those cars with passing zones into Turn 4 and Turn 7. When you have a long brake zone, it creates an opportunity to pass and produces better racing.”
Sunday’s race begins at 11:30 a.m. local time (2:30 p.m. Eastern), with television coverage on FOX.
Release Date: June 21, 2005