Obituary: Ex-Ensign F1 boss and Indycar engineer Mo Nunn 1938-2018

Morris Nunn, who ran his underdog Ensign Formula 1 team for a decade before finding huge success as an engineer in Indycar racing, has died at the age of 79

Obituary: Ex-Ensign F1 boss and Indycar engineer Mo Nunn 1938-2018

Known to everyone in the sport as 'Mo,' he ran some of the greatest drivers of the past 40 years, including Chris Amon, Jacky Ickx, Clay Regazzoni, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya. Quietly spoken and noted for his down-to-earth approach, Nunn was admired and respected by all who worked with him.

Nunn had three careers in motor racing. He started as a driver, and proved himself to be a solid talent in F3 before accepting that he wasn't going to make it in F1. He chose instead to become a constructor, initially in F3 before making the leap to grand prix racing in 1973.

He kept his little Ensign team alive for decade, usually fighting against the financial odds. However, unlike contemporary Frank Williams he never managed to put all the pieces together to create a winning package.

He then re-invented himself in America, quickly becoming one of the most successful and sought after engineers of the era, and a specialist at setting cars up for ovals.

Born in Walsall in 1938, Nunn had raced motorcycles when in 1962 he visited the West Bromwich showroom run by sometime F1 driver Chris Ashmore and his brother Gerry. He left as the owner of a Cooper-Climax F2 car, which he had purchased for £850. He subsequently competed in the first car race he ever attended, at Silverstone. He raced the Cooper sporadically into 1963, before buying a Lotus 23B sportscar, with which he began to find some success.

By 1966 he had proved to be a frontrunner in F3 with his own Lotus 41, and in 1969 (pictured above, chasing Ronnie Peterson at Brands Hatch) was hired to by Colin Chapman to drive a works Gold Leaf entry. A brief foray with an F5000 Lola in early 1970 ended in a split with the team. With no drive and no backing available Nunn accepted that he had a limited future as a driver. At the age of 31 he decided instead to be a constructor.

He knew F3 well so he decided to start there, using his savings to buy the materials to build his first car in his garage, christening it the Ensign. In the hands of Bev Bond it achieved some success in 1971, and Nunn soon found customers for his products.

A conversation with one of them, the wealthy Rikky von Opel, led to the momentous decision to build an F1 car for 1973. It didn't achieve very much, but Nunn was on his way as an F1 entrant and constructor. With Teddy Yip's Theodore backing he ran Vern Schuppan in 1974, while Dutch sponsorship put Gijs van Lennep in the car in 1975.

Money was always short but Nunn showed he had ambition by hiring Chris Amon for a couple of races in 1975. That relationship extended into 1976, and the Kiwi put in some sterling performances - qualifying third in Anderstorp and sixth at Brands Hatch - before opting for retirement. He was replaced by Jacky Ickx and then, in 1977, by Clay Regazzoni. The latter made the top six several times that year, as did newcomer Patrick Tambay in a sister Theodore-backed car.

Nunn gave chances to youngsters Derek Daly and Nelson Piquet in 1978, the Irishman then struggling through '79 with an uncompetitive ground effect car.

For 1980 Nunn attracted major backing from Unipart, and reuniting with Regazzoni it appeared that Ensign's fortunes had turned. However the Swiss veteran's huge accident at Long Beach was a major blow, and Unipart left at the end of the year. Running on a shoestring once more Marc Surer then scored what would be Ensign's best result with fourth and fastest lap in a wet Brazilian GP in 1981.

After one more year under the Ensign name in 1982 with Roberto Guerrero, Nunn sold his assets long-time friend and backer Yip.

Seeing no future in F1, he subsequently headed to the USA, initially working with Guerrero and the Bignotti-Cotter team. Without the pressure to find funds or build cars, and focusing solely on engineering, he would finally find the sort of success that eluded him in Europe.

After a spell with Newman-Haas and Mario Andretti he joined Pat Patrick, helping Emerson Fittipaldi to an Indy 500 victory and the CART title in 1989. He then joined Chip Ganassi as technical director, winning the 1996 title with Jimmy Vasser before enjoying two extraordinarily successful title-winning seasons with Alex Zanardi, with whom he had a special bond.

When the Italian left to join Williams, Nunn persuaded Ganassi to take Juan Pablo Montoya for 1999, and the team duly won a fourth straight championship with the mercurial Colombian.

For the 2000 season and with the backing of Mercedes Nunn set up his own CART team at a base in Indianapolis, and found himself in overall charge for the first time since 1982. Initially he ran one car for Tony Kanaan (pictured below), before he was reunited with Zanardi the following year - only for the Italian to be gravely injured at Lausitzring.

As a team boss Nunn had some solid results and won a couple of IRL races, but he never enjoyed the sort of success he had as an engineer. Following a final full season with former Tyrrell F1 driver Tora Takagi in 2004, and a joint venture with Adrian Fernandez at Indy in 2005, he decided to call it a day. In September that year he auctioned off the team's entire inventory, but he remained in touch with the sport as technical advisor to Ganassi.

shares
comments
Haas wary of Formula 1 expansion amid rules uncertainty

Previous article

Haas wary of Formula 1 expansion amid rules uncertainty

Next article

Red Bull annoyed Dan Ticktum not allowed to do Formula 1 test

Red Bull annoyed Dan Ticktum not allowed to do Formula 1 test
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Teams Ensign
Author Adam Cooper
Why Bottas feels the time has come to be “more selfish” Plus

Why Bottas feels the time has come to be “more selfish”

We’ve seen five distinct versions of Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes as he’s tried to fulfil his own ambitions while being a consummate team player – two difficult, competing missions which have been challenging to reconcile. Speaking exclusively to STUART CODLING, Bottas explains his highs and lows… and why he still believes he can be world champion

Does Aston have a case in F1 2021’s big technical row? Plus

Does Aston have a case in F1 2021’s big technical row?

Aston Martin claims Formula 1’s latest technical tweaks have cost it competitiveness – and that it’s the innocent victim of a regulatory stitch-up aimed at pegging back Mercedes. But is any of this actually true? It depends on who you ask, says STUART CODLING

Formula 1
May 14, 2021
How long can F1 2021's brewing title battle stay clean? Plus

How long can F1 2021's brewing title battle stay clean?

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have been evenly matched so far in the 2021 Formula 1 title race. Neither has been afraid to get aggressive against each other on track, teeing up an enthralling contest as the year unwinds. But is their rivalry destined to end in broken shards of carbon fibre?

Formula 1
May 13, 2021
What the Spain result tells F1 about the next phase of the Mercedes/Red Bull title fight Plus

What the Spain result tells F1 about the next phase of the Mercedes/Red Bull title fight

OPINION: Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have recovered from their pre-season woes to take three wins from the opening four races of 2021. But each time Red Bull and Max Verstappen have pushed them hard. So, what clues did the latest round of that battle – the Spanish Grand Prix – tease about the next stage of the season?

Formula 1
May 12, 2021
How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner Plus

How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner

The Brabham BT46B raced once, won once, then vanished – or did it? STUART CODLING reveals the story of the car which was never actually banned…

Formula 1
May 11, 2021
The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle Plus

The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle

Formula 1’s visits to Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya over recent years have been met with familiar criticisms despite tweaks here and there to the track to improve racing. With the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix largely going the same way, proper solutions need to be followed to achieve F1’s wider targets

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings Plus

Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Often described as Formula 1's laboratory, the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona gave the clearest demonstration yet of the pecking order in 2021. And it's the key discrepancies from that order which illuminate who is excelling, and who needs to hit the reset button

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
How Red Bull’s deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain Plus

How Red Bull’s deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain

An aggressive first corner move from Max Verstappen appeared to have set the Red Bull driver on course for victory in the Spanish Grand Prix. But canny strategy from Mercedes - combined with the absence of Red Bull's number two from the lead group - allowed Lewis Hamilton to pull off a demoralising reversal

Formula 1
May 10, 2021