Canadian Ron Fellows returns to racing action this weekend at the challenging Road America circuit looking for his fifth NASCAR Nationwide victory – which he’d prefer to keep this time around.
Last year, Fellows took the chequered flag in the Nationwide race at the Wisconsin track but was put back to second after NASCAR ruled that he passed eventual winner Reed Sorenson under yellow.
“It’s still a debate on my part as to when the caution came out, but whatever,” said Fellows, who starts his third race in Elkhart Lake, Wis., on Saturday.
“Ultimately NASCAR made the right decision. Typically, you go back to the previous scoring loop and that would have been the start-finish line and they were ahead and that’s how it works.”
Elkhart Lake is the first in a three-race deal to drive the No. 5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsport in a trio of NASCAR Nationwide road course events. AER Manufacturing is Fellows’ sponsor for this weekend’s race at Road America while Canadian Tire takes over for the August starts at New York State’s Watkins Glen International and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
The 52-year-old has had success at all three tracks, including three wins at Watkins Glen and one in Montreal in 2008. In his combined 19 starts on the trio of road courses, he’s had nine top-5 results and 12 top-10s.
An accomplished road racer, Fellows had a hugely successful career racing Corvettes in the American Le Mans Series, where he won three class titles. Along the way he also took two class wins in the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, where Fellows was last week as a consultant for Chevrolet during this year’s race.
Semi-retired from racing, most of his time is spent at the recently renamed Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (formerly Mosport) in Bowmanville, Ont., which is getting a massive makeover after Fellows and partners bought it last year. He also spends about one-week monthly teaching at his performance driving school outside of Las Vegas.
While he’a enjoying his new challenges, Fellows also welcomes a return to the cockpit.
“I can’t wait to get going – it’s a very different environment for me these days with new opportunities certainly with the track and the school,” he said. “But it’s going to be nice to go get completely distracted with driving.”
While Fellows’ main focus at Road America will be his racing, his JR Motorsport team will also lean on the veteran road racer to help its regular drivers Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt find their feet on the road course.
While Patrick has plenty of experience racing on street and road courses from her days in IndyCar, her starts on non-ovals in NASCAR are limited to one in Montreal last year where she qualified 25th and then finished one spot better in the race.
Fellows worked with Patrick last year before she made her road course debut in a stock car and he was on hand at a team test last month in Atlanta to give her a bit of a refresher.
On the other hand, Whitt’s road course experience consists of the two test days at Road Atlanta and no more. The 21-year-old is seen as a rising star in NASCAR, who many pick as a future championship contender in the top-tier Sprint Cup.
“I spent a good part of the second day working with Cole because he has no road racing experience,” Fellows said.
“I talked to him and watched his driving and did a data compare with my laps and he just kept getting closer and closer. Cole is a really nice young man and hopefully he’ll have a decent weekend and not come away completely freaked about road racing.”
While Fellows is usually a threat to win in NASCAR road races, stepping into a stock car cold and taking the chequered flag is no easy task. He will spend most of the first practice session Friday shaking off the rust and then using what time is left trying to get the car where he wants it.
He won’t have lots of time to waste in Wisconsin with the field boasting several other ringers, including 1997 Formula One world champion Jacques Villeneuve, of Iberville, Que., who will be racing for the Penske team.
The Elkhart Lake track will also serve as a bit of a staging ground to help Fellows fine tune his Chevy for the next two races, especially Montreal, where he’d like to repeat a victory at home.
“There’s lots to learn at Road America that applies to both Watkins Glen and Montreal,” Fellows said.
“You have to have strong power at Road America and the car has to stop very well. From the aero perspective, you’ve got to have good high-speed handling that helps for Watkins Glen and there’s some slow stuff where power down is critical and what we learn there can be applied to Montreal.”
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