Category: Road Racing
Doug Fehan, Program Manager - Corvette Racing (Photo-Perry Blocher/RaceCanada.ca)
July 16, 2014
This past weekend (July 11-13) during the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, RaceCanada.ca staff were given a very special opportunity - the chance to meet with and have a one-on-one (Ok it was two on one) discussion with GM Racing's Program Manager, Doug Fehan. While Fehan's official duties fall under the GM banner, just about everyone who watches sportscar racing connects him with the incredible Corvette racing program.
Corvette Racing was at CTMP for the inaugural TUDOR United Sports Car Championship event – the first race at the circuit for the combined American Le Mans and GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series. It was a huge event and Team Chevy was also on board with all of the Corvette Daytona Prototypes in the new series plus a number of Camaros in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. And while Fehan's concern is strictly for the Corvette GT Le Mans program, we suspect that he carries some weight throughout the Chevy program.
In our interview, we touched on a variety of things with respect to the merger, the continuing processes involved in developing the Corvette racing program and, with particular interest, his feelings on the changes that have taken place at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park over the last (nearly) four years.
Of course having raced here in the American Le Mans Series since 1999, Fehan has seen plenty of things change but we discovered his history at the circuit goes back a little longer than that.
It seems that Doug first appeared at Mosport in 1967 as a driver and he competed in the USAC Kawartha 250 driving a Chevelle. One thing he remembers is that, "pit lane at the time had actual stalls - a place with a gate where you could put your tools, tires – your own designated little area. There was no place in North America that had that and I was thinking to myself – this is an amazing place."
As for the most recent developments; "I think the changes are not only dramatic, but I think they are fitting for how great a circuit this is. This is a race track that demands a lot more infrastructure than it ever really had and with Ron (Fellows) and Carlo (Fidani) involved in this, we are beginning to see some of that take shape and I think this can become certainly Canada's premiere road racing location and over the next couple of years emerge as one of North America's best facilities."
RC: Hi Doug. I'd like to first thank you for taking the time to sit down with us ahead of the race here at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, a track your group has had a lot of success at over the past decade. Obviously you'd like to repeat that success, but in recent years with the rule and class changes it's become increasingly more difficult to dominate the way you had in the early 2000's. Are you enjoying the push from others, or would you prefer going back to making it an intra-team battle for wins?
– I think it's a testament to the sanctioning body when you look at any of the qualifying sessions, the top 6 or 8 cars within a tenth of a second of one another and then you look at the race event themselves it's coming right down to the last lap, no one is really dominating and it just makes for great racing. We had a very good outing at Watkins Glen, we had never been there, any of the Corvettes, up until that weekend, and the similarities between the two race tracks, between there and
here, are pretty unique so we are hoping some of what we learned at Watkins Glen will carry over to here because we've not been here with the C7 yet either. We worked pretty hard yesterday, we've got another session today before we have to qualify so, so far, so good, no complaints it's going very, very well.
And I have to say I first raced here in 1967 in a Chevelle with USAC Grand National Stock Cars in the Kawartha 250. At that point in time the track was relatively new and I can remember thinking back, pit lane had actual stalls built in it, with a gate and an area and a roof and you could put your tires and your tools in your own designated area. There was no place in North America that had that and I was thinking to myself at that point in time, this is an amazing place. Unfortunately, no one spent 10 cents since 1967 up until recently and I think the changes that we are seeing here are not only dramatic but I think they are very fitting for how great a circuit this is. This is a race track that really commands a lot more infrastructure than it really ever had and with Ron and Carlo involved in this we're beginning to see some of that take shape and I think this can become, certainly Canada's premier road racing location, and I think in the next couple of years you're going to see it emerge into one of North America's best facilities.
I'm very excited about it because it is such a great race track. This race surface, the shape, the terrain change, the dynamics of the race track, the speed of the race track, I'd have to go back and look, but this very well may be the fastest track on which we race, average speed. For me it holds a lot of great memories, I'm very excited to see somebody resurrecting it and paying it it's due, it's deserved a lot more than it's received.
RC: Corvette Racing and Pratt and Miller have always brought out 'crowd-pleasing' cars. Bright yellow. Big car. Loud noise. The C7.R is no exception to this. How are you finding the new evolution of the car from an engineering standpoint, and how are the drivers liking the update?
DF – First off, I should be clear to point out other than the engine, which we carried over with the blessing of the sanctioning body and the gearbox there is not a common part between the cars. They are two completely different race cars. And I think as a testament we often times we talk about technology transfer about how a race car builds a better road car builds a better race car, or what I call cascade engineering, and this car is truly emblematic of that at it's best.
When you look at what the team has done with the chassis on the production car from the learning's of the C6 and the C6R race car it's just a magnificent piece. It is a technological showcase when you see the level of technology that has gone in to the production car chassis, it is 100 pounds lighter and 60 percent stiffer, it's a huge number to the point where in the Z06 now you will be able to buy it in a convertible. In the old chassis we needed the roof for stiffness. The new one was designed so we could start with a convertible and they succeeded in that. That's a long way of saying when we get that chassis to start with it makes a much better race car, a race car that responds more accurately to changes, the driver's noticed it right away. It's an incredible vehicle.
RC: You've had a number of fantastic road-racers come through your program, and have stuck with a number of them for a long time. Guys that have grown with the team and grown with the evolutions of the car. How much do you think that affects the success of the team? And moreover, the success of the brand?
– We started with C5, moved to C6, C6 Z06, then ZR1 now C7. Those are natural technological progressions that almost
every manufacturer has at some point in time. I think, though, for us it's been much more of an improvement because of the relationship of the production team and the race team working as one.
That doesn't exist at other manufacturer's. The other thing is, you talk about drivers, if you look at, and I'm a firm believer in continuity, and when you look at the service for which Ron provided which was 10 or 11 years, Johnny O'Connell same thing, Oliver Gavin now in his tenth or eleventh year, Jan Magnussen same deal, we believe that that level of continuity in drivers is just like a technology transfer. They bring a lot to the program. When Oliver came aboard and was mentored by Ron and Johnny, and now he's serving in that role with Tommy and Antonio and after those guys leave, which inevitably will occur, at that point in time Tommy and Antonio will be around to bring the next group of guys in. But, unlike most other teams, who change drivers every year or two, if you look back on our record over the last decade you just simply haven't seen that. That continuity plays a huge role in our success, they understand what it takes.
The other side of that is our fan support, which is what drives the program. Selling vehicles is our primary objective, and not just Corvettes but a whole line of Chevrolet products. No one owns just a Corvette. It's mom and dad, pick up truck, SUV, Cruze or Sonic for the kids. We like to capture that complete vehicle line up in a family and not just a Corvette and I think we have done a good job of that. You only have to reference the Corvette Corral at every track at which we compete and we're simply limited by space as to how many cars we can take in. Those are fans that pay extra to park together to share their Corvette experiences, obviously it's working. We've got some great numbers, we've ways to calculate all that, the participation, how it relates to actual vehicle sales, which all of them figure into a very complex, but very accurate return on investment, which is the reason we are here racing. This makes great economic sense for Chevrolet.
RC: Pratt and Miller also run the Cadillac program that runs in World Challenge. How much does it help having both of these teams run out of, essentially, the same building?
DF – They operate under the same roof back at Pratt & Miller, but is not intended, in other words the programs are not designed to compliment one and other, but inevitably racing will help you do that, whether it is something you're looking at, power steering or brake dynamics or small bits and pieces, it can be something as simple as a starter or an alternator that would be a common part that would be shared, so tribal knowledge does exist, but there is not a huge amount of cross over because they are two very different vehicles. There could be common components between them and we do share that knowledge.
RC – Do the teams have similar processes? Similar routines?
DF – No question, it's a Pratt & Miller process and if you look on the Cadillac team, many of those guys are ex-Corvette guys that moved over, so there's always that commonality. They sit in adjacent bays not 50 feet apart so inevitably there is going to be tribal knowledge.
RC: How did you come up with the driver pairings that have become so successful with the program?
– The pairings of drivers is not like that, people tend to put a lot more emphasis on that than we do. For a long time we
made a terrific effort to utilize size as an issue.
RC: Does height still affect which drivers get paired together- we remember the "tall" car and "short" car, or has it progressed to a 'who cares about the height, let's pair similar driving styles' mentality?
DF – And that was important, but over the years we've been able to develop the ergonomics inside the car so that no longer becomes the primary determination as to what you do with drivers. Although the way we have it lined up now one would think that's still the case, with Antonio and Jan in one and Oliver and Tommy in the other, but that's really not the case. Ultimately you try to find guys that like similar things in the car set up, and you can only do that by getting them together and run them for a while and figure out what they do. We moved Jan and Oliver back and forth and we've got a match right now that's working really well, so I don't see that changing for years to come.