Canadian Ron Fellows isn’t about to win any beauty contests featuring his Montreal NASCAR teammate at JR Motorsport, Danica Patrick.
And while it's doubtful anyone will line up to ask Fellows to shower in racy ads similar to Patrick’s GoDaddy.com television spots, there's no question that his tutoring will play a key role in any success she finds in her NASCAR road course debut on the 13-turn, 4.361-kilometre Circuit Gilles Villeneuve this weekend.
The pair completed two test days at Road Atlanta late last month where Fellows helped the IndyCar veteran get a grip on driving a stock car on a road course prior to her in her first non-oval appearance in Saturday’s Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200.
“When we did the test together, she did a terrific job,” said the Mississauga, Ont., racer who will drive the No. 5 JR Motorsport Chevy in Montreal.
“I was super impressed. Montreal is a very different track from the testing she did for a day-and-a-half at Road Atlanta, but I think she’ll be fine. She's a very good race car driver.”
While the 29-year-old from Roscoe, Ill., who has posed twice in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition took to the road course quickly, part of Fellows’ job as her teammate in Montreal is to help her acclimatize to the track. Patrick already knows the layout after racing at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve once in the Barber Dodge Series, where she crashed out of the event, and twice in the old Champ Car Atlantic Series, finishing in the top-5 both times.
Unfortunately, the things she learned in those races likely won’t help her much in the No. 7 Chevy, which is a long way from the open wheel cars she raced in Montreal.
“This will be a new experience for me, running a road course this weekend. It’s going to be an interesting weekend,” said Patrick who drives full-time for Andretti Autosport in the IndyCar Series.
“Fortunately, I was able to test with the Go Daddy team at Road Atlanta in preparation for the Montreal race. I’m grateful for that. Ron was there and he offered a lot of insight for me. Realistically, I think if we keep our nose clean and keep all four wheels on the racetrack, we can come out of this one with a decent finish.”
The Nationwide car she’ll race this weekend is more than double the weight of an IndyCar and has more horsepower, but nowhere near the downforce, cornering grip, or stopping power of her regular open wheel ride.
And that means Patrick will have to make fundamental changes in her driving style to find success in the stock car on a road course, said three-time American Le Mans Series GT champion Fellows, a “ringer” hired to race in NASCAR road courses.
“The first few laps she did at Road Atlanta, she was on the radio saying ‘my brakes are fading’ and I said: ‘Nope, that’s just the way they are’,” said Fellows, who won the Napa 200 in 2008.
“The biggest thing is that the stock cars are easy to overdrive, as in trying to be too aggressive cornering that’s the biggest thing you have to get over. You have to try not be too aggressive with corner approach and corner entry and you have to be easy on the power at the exit because you just don’t have the total grip.”
But the big factor in Montreal will be brake wear. Although brake temperature is always a concern on road courses in a heavy stock car, it’s different in Montreal. Drivers can use their brakes too much and then run into trouble when the wear and tear causes excessive heat transfer from the brakes into the calipers. When that happens, the fluid essentially boils, the brakes fade and, sooner or later, they simply stop working.
“A big, thick brake pad works like insulation and, if you get too much wear, which we do in Montreal, you really have to be conscious about how much time you are spending on the brake pedal because that heat has to find someplace to go,” Fellows said.
Speaking of going somewhere, it was reported this week that the worst kept secret in racing is out and Patrick will make the switch to NASCAR full-time in 2012. While no deal has been signed, the driver has apparently agreed to run a full NASCAR Nationwide schedule next year in the same No. 7 JR Motorsport car she’ll race in Montreal, plus try her hand at a limited number of top-tier Sprint Cup races with the Stewart-Haas team. It is thought she will not leave open wheel completely and continue racing in the Indianapolis 500.
But first, she’ll have to make it through the 74 laps around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Saturday in the Napa 200.
And what advice will Fellows give to Patrick as she heads into the race?
“You have to be cautiously aggressive,” he said. “You don’t want to be too conservative and lose a lot of track position but, at the same time, you have to make sure you have enough fenders and brakes left for the last 10 laps.”