50 Years of F1 in Canada - The Mosport Years - Vol.1
Ron Fellows: The Spectator
Ron Fellows still finds it surreal most days to know that he is a co-owner at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park; a place that played such a pivotal role in his racing career. Formerly known as Mosport Park, the historic circuit is where Fellows fell in love with racing, and also where he honed his craft racing showroom stock-cars in the 1980’s.
Before getting behind the wheel himself, Fellows was a fan first. He attended his first ever motor race at Mosport in 1969; the second Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix held at the track. “It was an epiphany for an eleven year-old,” he recounts. “If an eleven year old can have such a thing… I knew I needed to get on the other side of the fence.”
Fast forward 20 years and Fellows wins his first professional championship and his first Trans-Am race on the same day at Mosport Park. The weekend launched his career, and Fellows went on to become one of the winningest drivers in Trans-Am history, before taking home numerous class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Corvette Racing, and an historic overall win at the 24 hours of Daytona with the same team.
After a racing career spanning almost 30 years, Ron still has very fond memories of being a young spectator watching Formula 1 races at Mosport. Out of the 8 Formula 1 races run at Mosport Park between 1967 and 1977, Fellows attended 6 of them.
Ron was 11 years old when he attended his first motor race, the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park on September 20, 1969. It was the third running of the F1 Canadian Grand Prix, after the race had moved to Circuit Mont Tremblant for the 1968 season.
“I was sitting in the grand stand on the front straight for warm-up at about eight o’clock in the morning on Sunday,” Fellows says. “Watching them come through 8,9,10 for the first time was spectacular.”
“They shook the grandstands…I knew I had to get on the other side of the fence.”
Every lifelong racing fan can remember the first time they attended a race. Fellows was no different, but the experience left a deep impression and from then on he knew he wanted to race cars.
It became a tradition for Fellows to go up to Mosport Park for the Canadian Grand Prix - usually with his brother Rob, accompanied by their uncle Charles.
Fellows remembers the race in 1973 for its exceptionally bad weather, which caused the entire morning schedule to be postponed.
“We were sitting there for hours just waiting for something to happen. Then after lunch they brought the cars onto pit-lane and some of the teams fired them up,” he remembers. “It was the first noise anyone had heard all day. We all started cheering like crazy.”
“73 was the Confusion Grand Prix,” Ron remembers. At close to the halfway point of the race, Francois Cevert and Jody Scheckter were involved in a collision. This led to the first deployment of a safety car in Formula 1 history.
Problems arose when, as Fellows remembers, “the pace-car went out in front of the wrong car.” In a time before transponders, this caused a big problem.
“Then the cars had to come in and put on dry tires,” Fellows says. “Which screwed up positioning even further, because some cars were already a lap down.”
Somehow in that mess, Peter Revson - who was a lap down in his McLaren - managed to get back on the lead lap and was racing for position near the front of the field.
Naturally, “the final part of the race was very confusing,” Fellows recalls. “I saw Colin Chapman throw his cap in the air thinking Emerson (Fittipaldi) had won the race.”
After a delayed podium, it was announced that Revson was the race winner.
The 1974 Canadian Grand Prix was especially memorable for Fellows. He credits that weekend as a big part of why he did so well in wet-weather racing.
“I remember watching Ronnie Peterson during practice in the rain. He must have been out there for close to 40 minutes, because I got to get around to most of the corners to see how he was driving the rain line. I remember him coming around the outside of Turn 2 and thinking ‘what is he doing?’”
“It was cold and raining pretty steadily, very few other cars went out in the session…it was a really unique opportunity to watch and learn that technique.”
“I could see him searching for grip and essentially staying off the dry-line everywhere. It was fascinating to watch, and I learned a tonne just from watching.”
“I like to think I ended up being pretty good in the rain myself,” he says humbly; having a very successful wet-weather driving record - which includes being the first driver to ever win a NASCAR points race in the rain.
In 1976, Fellows attended the Grand Prix with high-school friends, and instead of taking his usual place on the front straight, they arrived very early Sunday morning to stand against the fence at the top of Moss Corner - Turn 5.
Luckily, it might have been the best year to do so - as Hunt and Peterson famously came down Turn 4 and into Moss Corner side-by-side.
“Hunt pushed him a little wide at 5A and grabbed the inside, but Peterson did the under-cut at 5B and they continued up the straightaway nearly touching wheels. We were just going crazy watching it happen.”
The last Canadian Grand Prix held at Mosport was in 1977. It was a very special Grand Prix in Canadian motorsport history, as Gilles Villeneuve made his debut for Ferrari, in his second ever Formula 1 start, after a one-race deal for McLaren at the 1977 British Grand Prix.
“I had seen (Gilles) race in Formula Atlantic at Mosport. I thought he was absolutely spectacular, and Atlantic was really competitive back then too with Keke Rosberg, Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, and Bill Brack to name a few.”
As in 1976, Fellows was at his spot in Moss Corner again. Due to an accident in qualifying, Villeneuve had to start further back in 17th position.
“Gilles was making his way up the field…we were really excited with all the passing he was doing.”
Aside from the driving brilliance of Villeneuve, to Fellows “the sheer speed of Mario Andretti in the Lotus really stood out.”
“They were just starting to learn about ground-effect and he just looked so smooth.”
Fellows believes that watching Formula 1 at Mosport had an immense impact on the development of his driving style. Ironically, in 2013 when he was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, the international inductee that year was Mario Andretti.
Fans can relieve the F1 glory days of Mosport at this year’s VARAC Vintage Grand Prix on June 16-18 (Father’s Day Weekend), featuring the FIA Master’s Historic F1 Series. Legendary F1 cars from the 70’s & 80’s will once again grace the legendary Grand Prix circuit at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
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