On Wednesday, the racing world learned it has lost one of the top minds of his generation. Former driver, as well as a Formula 1 constructor, Indycar team owner and engineer Morris “Mo” Nunn, died at the age of 79.
“Saddened for Morris Nunn’s passing,” Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull shared on Twitter. “Pure race guy; one of the architects of the present (Ganassi) culture. Understood that priority reshuffled daily made us better. Still to this day, think, when pushed by conventional thinking: ‘what would Morris do?’ ”
After hanging up his driving gloves around 1970, the Walsall, England native soon founded Ensign Racing, a Formula 1 team that competed in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Ensign ran its first race in 1973. According to the team’s ESPN page, Ensign competed in 102 races from 1973 to 1982, fielding notable drivers, including Chris Amon, Derek Daly, Nelson Piquet, Roberto Guerrero and others.
Nunn went to America after shuttering Ensign’s doors and found a job working for George Bignotti’s CART team. In 1989, he was part of the Patrick Racing team that helped guide Emerson Fittipaldi to an Indianapolis 500 victory as well as the CART championship.
“Mo’s background was European racing,” says Fittipaldi, “yet his genius lies in making a car handle on ovals. I’ve never really understood it, but it’s a fact: no-one I ever worked with had that same ability, and it was fantastic for a driver’s confidence; at a place as quick as Indy, you really need a car that’s working with you.”
He later worked for Chip Ganassi’s Champ Car teams, serving as Alex Zanardi’s chief engineer in 1996 – when Zanardi won rookie of the year — 1997 and 1998, when the Italian driver won back-to-back CART titles.
In 1999, Nunn founded Mo Nunn Racing and fielded a two-car CART team in 2000 with drivers Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta. The team never won a race in its three years of existence but did record multiple podiums.
Nunn also branched out to the Indy Racing League in 2002, where Brazilian driver Felipe Giaffone scored the team’s first and only win of the season.
“RIP Morris Nunn,” Chip Ganassi tweeted. “Best in the Paddock in his Era at getting the most out of his drivers. His fingerprints still all over our team.”
Nunn worked with many drivers over the decades he spent in F1 and Indycar (IRL, CART etc.) and here are his reflections on some of those:
Mo on Rikky von Opel “I heard about this wealthy guy, Rikky von Opel, who had ordered a couple of Marches. I worked out that, for the same money, I could run him in a works Ensign, and called him. He had a flat in Grosvenor Square, and our appointment was for 8.30am. There he was, sitting alone at this huge table, servants waiting on him, breakfast all laid out – I’d never seen anything like this! I told him my proposition and said it would cost £9000. He agreed immediately.”
“Von Opel was no great shakes as a driver, but he tested assiduously, and eventually began to win the odd race. Then we began to talk about 1973. We were driving to Thruxton in his Rolls he and his girlfriend were in the back, and I was driving and we were discussing F2 and F5000, and couldn’t make a decision. Then I suddenly said, ‘What about F1?’ By the time we got to the hotel, it was all agreed!”
“Rikky was very good to me. He’d bankrolled the whole thing. He took his Cosworth engines to Bernie, but he left me with the cars and said I could run someone else.”
Mo on Chris Amon: “Chris was a fantastic driver. He always reckoned he was past his best when he drove for us, but we made tremendous progress with him. We had no sponsorship and couldn’t afford to go testing, but he was incredibly quick and always qualified near the front. I think he’d lost some determination by then, though; I wish we’d run a few years earlier.”
Mo on Clay Regazzoni: “He wasn’t as talented as Chris, but all his motivation was intact, and we had a marvellous time together in 1977.”
Mo on Juan Pablo Montoya: “Then Chip calls: ‘Morris, Alex [Zanardi] is going to test at Barcelona. Would you like to see him test? And Williams have got this Montoya kid there’ – who I’d never heard of’and we could have a look at him at the same time. He’s a possibility for the future’. So I met Juan, and spent two days trying to figure out whether he was arrogant or just very confident. On the circuit I was very impressed; he was ahead of the car he knew what it was going to do, and was making the corrections to allow for it.
“I said to Chip, ‘This kid may be overdriving a bit, but he’s got incredible car control’. I suggested we give him a test, and he was very quick right off – in fact, a little bit scary, especially in his first run on a oval. He insisted he was taking it easy. I told Chip I thought he could win by Long Beach, in March, and Chip signed him up. In the end, I stayed for one more year, with Juan, and I’m glad I did. And after that, far from thinking about leaving the business, I decided to start my own team! Long way from the Ensign days, isn’t it?”
GrandPrix247 extends condolences to Mo Nunn’s family and friends.