American Le Mans Series GTS champion Ron Fellows was happy to be back in the saddle ahead of schedule, driving a race car for the first time since having shoulder surgery December 1.

Fellows and the rest of the factory Chevrolet Corvette team spent Sunday and Monday testing at Sebring International Raceway in preparation for the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 17-20. Fellows, who drove the last two races of the 2003 season with a painfully dislocated shoulder, admitted he was not back to full strength yet.

"It's a relief to be driving the car again," said Fellows, who has been driving a go kart at an indoor karting facility near his home as part of his therapy. "It's still pretty weak and not as strong as I would like, primarily dealing with the cornering loads on the track.

"It was great to be back," he said. "It feels like it's been awhile and it has. We don't normally stay this inactive behind the wheel. It was great to get in the car, especially with the new chassis and trying the Michelins for the first time. We've got a ways to go now to be strong for the Sebring event. Twelve hours is tough but we will be ready March 20."

Fellows injured his left shoulder in a rock-climbing accident on September 20 near his home in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. The arthroscopic surgery was performed by Dr. Stephen L. Kollias, a shoulder specialist in Indianapolis, and Fellows has been undergoing therapy ever since.

"We had a bicep tendon that was torn, ligament tears in the rotator cuff and something in the scapula as well," he said. "I go to Indy every couple of weeks for the day and they are really happy with the progress. The arthroscopic method really makes for a quicker recovery because you don't have so much damage as when you're cut wide open there. Not as quick as I'd like but we'll just have to deal with it.

"The hardest part has been just having to let it take, and not being able to do certain activities that you want to be doing at this time of year in preparation for the season," he said. "It's a bit frustrating not being able to generally get more aggressive with the therapy. Both the doctor and my therapist have just said you've got to let it take and go at it slowly, so we're hopefully going to graduate beyond just working the bicep with a bottle of Gatorade to some serious weight here soon."

Fellows said his injury, surgery and recovery has helped him gain respect for other professional athletes who come back from injuries.

"It's pretty interesting because I've never really had a serious injury," he said. "I've had a couple of concussions, but nothing like this in terms of tears and having to get some repair work done and trying to develop the kind of mental toughness that needs to happen in terms of the patience.

"I have a lot of respect for certainly the hockey players that go through a similar kind of shoulder injury and are, especially at that level, getting back after 10 weeks or so," he said. "Then the first thing they do is slam into the boards with it, so you've got to have a lot of confidence in your repair job and therapy work. It's frustrating but it's been interesting to learn how to adapt, and how to try to mentally prepare even though you're unable to do some of the physical stuff."

Fellows and co-driver Johnny O'Connell have won the GTS class in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring the past two years with two different third co-drivers. This year, they will have another new third driver in Italian Max Papis, a veteran of Formula One, CART and sports car racing, as they try for their third consecutive Sebring victory. Papis will also drive with Corvette Racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

In addition, Fellows will be chasing an ALMS record this season as he tries to become the first driver in series history to win three consecutive driving championships.

The 52nd annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will get the green flag at 10.30 am [local time] on Saturday, March 20.



Loading Comments...