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Michelin GTLM Insider: The Fellows Formula

Inside Michelin’s relationship with Canadian racing veteran Ron Fellows…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

There are few people in the world of international endurance sports car racing better liked or more respected than Canadian motorsports legend, Ron Fellows.

Fellows is a multi-time former champion driver, motorsports ambassador, driving school principal, and now key figure at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, site of this week’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race.

Fellows gives credit to his race teams, business partners, staff and longtime corporate relationships with Chevrolet and Michelin as key factors in his success.

The Fellows Record

*Voted most popular driver four times, won three driver championships, two wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 27 American Le Mans Series wins, 20 SCCA Trans-Am wins, four NASCAR Nationwide wins, two NASCAR Truck wins.

*With his eponymous driving schools at Spring Mountain, and as an ambassador for Corvette

Starting a New Relationship

Fellows’ relationship with General Motors and Chevrolet preceded his joining the Corvette Racing team shortly after it was formed in 1997.

It is the other relationship, the one with Michelin which began in late 2003 and continues today that came as a bit of a surprise.

Fellows recently recounted how his relationship with Michelin came about.

Corvette had won at Le Mans in 2001 and 2002. “We had a perfect race at Le Mans in 2003; the best race we had ever run there to that point and we got beat by a Ferrari by a couple of laps and started to explore what happened,” Fellows said.

“A lot of it was that the Ferrari that beat us had Michelin tires.

“After getting our butt kicked at Le Mans, the powers to be at GM and Corvette Racing worked to find out what happened and to break down our performance.

“We saw that the Ferraris could double-stint the Michelin tires with no performances drop off.”

Told that the margin at Le Mans in 2003 was actually 10 laps, or nearly 85 miles, Fellows was stunned. “No, no way,” Fellows initially responded. Then, shown the online data he shook his head in amazement.

Impossible to Ignore

“That opened the door to try one set of Michelin tires after Petit Le Mans,” said Fellows. A subsequent major test was scheduled for Sebring.

As the senior driver for Corvette Racing, Fellows certainly had a voice in the decision making process.

“Before that, from Showroom Stock, Trans-Am, World Sports Car, NASCAR, all that I had ever raced on was Goodyear.

“It was a big step for everyone, but the Michelin technology and performance were intriguing and we could not ignore that,” said Fellows.

“There were substantial differences in lap times (reported to be nearly three seconds per lap at Sebring) and that would keep us from continuing to be successful. It appeared that the Michelin technology was superior at that time. After that first test session, it was impossible to ignore.”

Twelve Hours of Sebring 2004

Sitting in the winner’s press conference at Sebring late on race night 2004, Fellows wore a Michelin podium hat for the first time.

While his team had repeatedly smashed the race lap record on its way to victory in its first race with Michelin, Fellows recognized Michelin’s performance, and then graciously took a moment to reflect on where he and the Corvette Racing team had come from.

“Up until today every race and championship that we have won came with Goodyear,” Fellows said. “We are grateful for everything that they did for us.”

Corvette and Michelin

The success on the track put two brands that would be part of his future for many years to come together for the first time.

Corvette Racing returned to the top step of the podium at Le Mans in 2004, lapping nearly six seconds per lap quicker than the previous year and now able to successfully double-stint tires.

“That success throughout the year opened the door for Michelin to the internal team at Corvette. Through Corvette Racing, Dave Hill and Tom Wallace, then the chief engineer for C6 Corvette, saw the performance and invited Michelin to a test,” recalled Fellows.

“They were developing the ZR1, the most powerful Corvette ever, and it led to an opportunity. As result of the tests, Corvette chose Michelin,” said Fellows.

That Corvette-Michelin relationship has grown through the years to the extent that every model of the current Corvette C7 comes exclusively with Michelin tires.

It includes the official Corvette pace cars here at CTMP and the Corvettes at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Nevada’s Spring Mountain Motor Resort & Country Club.

Shifting Gears

“I value the relationship with Michelin very much,” said Fellows. “There is a level of trust and true appreciation that they have been a huge part of our success. We extended that relationship when I got involved with CTMP.”

“In 2012, both Chevrolet and Michelin showed their faith in my partners and I at CTMP.

“We’ve been able to make big changes in infrastructure to take this iconic track and make it a bucket list track for drivers and fans. We’ve worked hard to be better hosts for corporate events, track days and for our spectator events.”

“One of the best parts of motorsports can be found in the relationships that are created through the sport,” said Chris Baker, director of motorsport, Michelin North America.

“No one works harder, or more sincerely and thoughtfully in building relationships with the fans, manufacturers, teams, drivers, competitors, sanctioning bodies, officials, media, and the local communities, than Ron Fellows.

“Ron is a genuinely good guy and it is our privilege to enjoy a partnership with him.”

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