Driving Ron Fellows' Corvette on Ron Fellows' Track
“When I come back, I want to be private-jet-rich,” Ron Fellows tells me from the pit lanes of Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (a legendary track that he owns), looking up at a brand new race control center that he built, about to step into a Corvette Z06 that bears his racing school’s name.
“But you own a track,” I answer, trying to politely imply my envy.
“Yeah,” he chuckles. “That’s why I’m not private-jet-rich.”
The whole conversation, with the self-effacing and extremely affable Fellows, happens at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (CTMP.) I’m here to take an abbreviated version of Ron’s driving school, the Ron Fellows Driving Experience. Seeing as how his name was made behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Corvette, it only makes sense that Fellows teaches from the wheel of a Z06. There are other cars here, though. There’s a handful of Camaro SSs, and for people who actually put down their own money (my tuition was kindly subsidized by Chevrolet of Canada’s PR team), there are also Cadillac ATS-Vs. To me, the Corvette is the dream, though.
I never admit it in mixed company, but I’m actually a Corvette guy. When I was young — the type of young that only records faint, memories darkened by time – I saw a C4 in a parking lot one night. I have no memories surrounding it, but I distinctly remember the headlights popping up and a question being settled in my heart. Never again would I have to ask what cool was.
Later, when my dad took my brother and me to our first races, they were the Petit Le Mans race at CTMP (then known as Mosport). Those were the heady years of Corvette racing when the C5.R faced off against the (at the time Dodge) Viper GTS and when the track was considerably jankier. These were important days to me, though because my brother was a Viper fan.
My brother was older. My brother was bigger. My brother won every argument. Except for the argument about which car was better. The Corvette or the Viper? I won that argument because of Ron.
And now I’m behind the wheel of a Z06, driving the track I’d fetishized, getting lessons from his son, Sam, over the walkie-talkie.
“As long as you can get it off the line, you can do the whole track in 4th gear if you don’t know how to drive manual,” Sam told a room of journalists and me before heading on track. That’s not just a testament to how much torque the Z06 produces (650 lb-ft), it’s also a comment on just how old school the track is. First opened in 1961, it was the Canadian leg of the Formula 1 series for years until time and track safety moved F1 to Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
The track was built back when Spa was still a tree-lined death trap, when Formula 1 claimed the lives of most of its drivers, when garagistas could come in steal championships from the sport’s biggest names through cleverness. Since then, little apart from the name has changed. Still considered the fastest track in nearly every series that runs it, CTMP has the ability to scare even the most seasoned of drivers. Turn 2 is a high-speed, off-camber, double-apex corner that runs downhill. Nothing I can’t handle with my extensive knowledge of Forza and Need For Speed.
Before getting here, my experience on-track was limited to a few laps in a Subaru BRZ at a perfectly flat track. I will always say that 200 hp is enough to have fun, but it doesn’t exactly prepare you for a Z06.
See Also: 2018 Subaru BRZ tS Review
I’m getting instruction from pros, though, and there’s a Camaro SS ahead of me setting the pace, making sure I don’t get in over my head. At the Ron Fellow Driving Experience, they teach lead-follow, arguing that chasing a rabbit is the most effective way to get you going fast. And they aren’t wrong. Every lap I felt like I was going faster, getting as much speed out of the corner as I could. And invariably, the next lap I was going faster, feeling the same way.
It was about the time that I passed another group (lead-follow groups are kept to two or three cars at a time), with the off-line rubber pelting my windshield, that I felt like I was really something. The slower cars pulled over to let me by as I tried not to look smug. I forgot, of course, that at least one of the groups included someone who had never driven a manual car before and that I was still behind a Camaro with 200 fewer horses. But I felt like a hero. I felt like Ron.
The torque is intoxicating. It pulls and pulls you ever onward, forgiving you for the mistakes of inexperience. I agree, torque is a crutch, but it’s such a good crutch. One that I’ll always lean on. And somehow, the Corvette doesn’t bite you. Yes, the traction control was on and I was following behind a slower car with an expert at the wheel (ensuring I wasn’t coming into corners too hot). And yes, everyone told me that understeer would be more of a problem at this track than oversteer, but somehow even beneath my clumsy feet, the Z06 just grips and grips and grips. And even though I saw the traction control light flashing at me like a strobe light throughout the day, it never robbed me of any fun in Sport or Track mode. It let me play, it let me have my fun, and it never clamped down on power. It just kept me off the barriers.
Confidence inspiring is how to best describe it. You can go so much quicker than off-track experience has taught you cars can go. Every corner it pulls at you in new and exciting ways, while you try hard to listen to the instruction coming in over the walkie-talkie. Normally all I’d want to listen to is the gorgeous 6.2-liter V8, but today, I’m here to learn and it’s hard to do that over the tuneful howl of the LS. But if you’re willing to listen, the car tells you a lot on its own. The C7 may not look particularly small, but when you’re inside of it, you do feel that it’s wrapped around you like a wet-suit. And thanks to the enormous hood bulges, you know exactly where the front tires at any given moment. It all makes the Z06 very easy to place on the track when you’re hunting for apexes. The steering wheel, meanwhile, always tells you know exactly where the old tarmac is and where the new stuff has been laid down. You can feel when you’re on the line and every time the back wheels start to struggle for grip, you’re in on the conversation, too.
As the day flew by, my instructors (there were a few) were very encouraging, telling me how quickly I was picking up speed and gently correcting my spastic braking technique. By the end of the day, I really did feel that I was much faster than I had been a day earlier.
Flying up the back straight at 150 mph, you understand just why people say that CTMP is like the world’s best country road. It feels like a winding two-lane highway on which you can achieve any speed a car will allow. That could easily be scary, but in the Z06, it just felt fun. It’s a remarkably unintimidating car, despite the supercar numbers.
That could also be because I wasn’t driving anywhere near the limit. Despite feeling very proud of myself for having extracted as much performance from every lap as was available, my illusions were quickly shattered by an end-of-day hot lap with one of the pros. As the driver tried to pull my head off my shoulders, I understood that maybe I hadn’t been going as fast as the car would allow. It all reminded me that no matter how much I may believe myself to be a driving-god, it would take considerably more than one afternoon of lead-follow to actually become that.
Still, though. It’s the best way I’ve ever had my ego checked.
Sebastien is a roving reporter who covers Euros, domestics, and all things enthusiast. He has been writing about the automotive industry for four years and obsessed with it his whole life. He studied English at the Wilfrid Laurier University. Sebastien also edits for AutoGuide's sister sites VW Vortex, Fourtitude, Swedespeed, GM Inside News, All Ford Mustangs, and more.
More by Sebastien Bell