Eyewitness: When Chip got fried!

What if Martin Whitmarsh completely lost the plot during a Grand Prix, marched down to Red Bull and slapped Christian Horner around the chops! The media maelstrom would be apocalyptic. Back page, front page, you name it, F1 would be everywhere.

Of course it is highly unlikely to happen especially between two gentlemen of F1, but rewind thirteen years and in the pulsating pitlane of Motegi, Japan for the 1999 CART race, the aforementioned did take place between two of the American racing’s greatest team bosses. In the red corner was Chip Ganassi, in the metallic grey corner was an enraged, cigar-wielding Carl Haas. In-between was legendary engineer, Morris (Mo) Nunn. Now, settle down, you have a ringside seat!

Juan Pablo Montoya – Photo by Jakob Ebrey

“Juan had been winding Michael (Andretti) up ever since he arrived in CART,” Mo told Sniffer Media from his Californian home this week. “He had this incredible attitude of ‘I just don’t care what anyone says, I’m going to win this thing and if anyone is stupid enough to get in the way, well that’s their own damn fault.’ Juan was so damn quick from the very start of his CART career. It was just a matter of time before it all blew-up between him and some of the more senior drivers.”

Nunn was engineering the Colombian firebrand in a Ganassi Reynard-Honda. Juan was the reigning Formula 3000 Champion at the time. He arrived in the US replacing Alex Zanardi who was Williams F1 bound. Nobody knew for sure at this stage but Montoya had signed a long-term deal with Sir Frank in F1, with the proviso that he proved himself in CART.

“The first time Juan went on an oval he was quick, I mean blindingly quick, straight away,” recalled Nunn. “We had drivers from other teams coming up to us and saying, ‘You got to have a word with him, he’s going to hurt himself.’ But Juan was just so blasé about it. His natural confidence levels were phenomenal and he just got on with things without any fear whatsoever.

“In Japan, Juan thought that Andretti had brake-tested him in practice and so he waited for him. Then Juan caught him up again, overtook Michael but then tried to chop him to show who was boss. He miscalculated massively and put both of them in the wall, pretty heavily. Michael was absolutely furious and quite rightly so and was screaming at Juan, about three inches from his face. Juan just looked in to his eyes and started laughing. That made Michael pretty murderous and his face went from deep red to purple!

“So Juan comes back to the pits as if nothing has happened but we take him up to the stewards, for his own good really. We, as in his own team, actually told the stewards to give Juan a heavy fine and a good lecture for what he had done. It was just plain dangerous and he needed to learn. If his car had not have swapped ends after the contact he would have hit the wall head on at 200mph. He wouldn’t have been laughing in anyone’s face then, I can tell you.”

Meanwhile Carl Haas is pacing the apron outside the Ganassi pit, waiting for Montoya and Chip. Carl tries to get hold of the sheepish Montoya but Ganassi and Nunn are between them. Carl slaps Ganassi around the chops with his hand, complete with his obligatory cigar! If his cigar wasn’t lit, Carl certainly was! To Ganassi’s credit he didn’t retaliate and Haas was bundled away by officials.

Morris Nunn

“It was a bit tense,” Nunn understates. “We knew that Juan was in the wrong but actually the fact he got a major reprimand and a fine did him good. He realised then that direct conflict and interlocking wheels at 200+mph was not a healthy way to go racing on ovals. In fact, it set him in good stead for that terrific battle he had with Michael at Michigan a year later.”

Montoya took seven wins in his rookie title winning year, in 1999. In 2000 he took a wonderful win at Michigan, and it was a sweet one, as he pipped Andretti by just a car-width after a mesmeric last 10 laps.

“Juan was a natural. His car control was freakish really,” Nunn remembers in his distinctive trans-atlantic ‘Brummy’ drawl. “He would drive around and through a car’s problems. If it pushed he would drive around it; if it understeered he’d drive around that. I went to Barcelona at the end of 1998 when he was testing for Williams and when I got back I remember saying to the guys in the workshop; ‘We’re going to have something special next year, very special. He’ll be winning by Long Beach. And that is exactly what he did. Juan was just incredible.”

To watch a video of the incident click here and scroll to 1m12secs – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7wvKxCZDus

Who is Morris (Mo) Nunn?

From Litchfield in the West Midlands, Morris (Mo) Nunn cut his racing teeth in the early 1960’s racing a Lotus  in both sports cars and F3. After becoming a regular on the British single-seater scene, Morris had his big-break in 1969 when he raced for the works Lotus F3 and F2 squad.

After realising he was a better engineer than driver, Morris decided to become a constructor and built the F371, F372 and F373 cars for Formula Three competition. The F371 in particular was a competitive proposition from the start of the 1971 season with Bev Bond , David Purley and later Bob Evans winning races.

One of Mo’s drivers in 1972 was the young heir to the Opel empire, Rikki Von Opel. With Morris’ talent for engineering and Rikki’s money in place they leapt in to Formula One for 1973, with the N173 design. Results were few and far between that year and indeed throughout the 1970’s, despite the best efforts of Jacky Ickx, Clay Regazzoni, Chris Amon, Derek Daly and many others.

1980 promised a competitive year in F1 as Regazzoni, in his second stint with Nunn’s team, showed well. However, a career ending accident at Long Beach set the team back and there followed three more seasons in F1 before Nunn merged the team with Teddy Yips’ Theodrore outfit.

When this ended at the end of 1983, Nunn commissioned Nigel Bennett to design an Indycar and it raced sporadically in ’83, alongside the F1 programme. For 1984 Nunn headed to the States permanently and engineered his former F1 protégé Roberto Guerrero at the Cotter-Bignotti team, scoring a fine 2nd place at that year’s Indy 500.

In 1989, Nunn joined Pat Patrick’s Marlboro-backed team and guided Emerson Fittipaldi to the Indy 500 and CART title. Some wilderness years followed with the Alfa-engine project before Morris joined Ganassi in 1992. There followed four consecutive CART titles with Jimmy Vasser (1996), Alex Zanardi (1997 and 1998) and Juan-Pablo Montoya (1999).

Nunn set up his own team in 2000 running Tony Kanaan but then shifted emphasis to the IRL until 2005 when he returned to Ganassi as a consultant. Since 2008 Nunn has been retired and enjoys playing golf three times a week. He lives in California with his wife Kathryn and is currently writing his autobiography.

Thanks to Joe Saward’s www.grandprix.com for reference on Mo’s career

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