© Scuderia Ferrari

Former Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney dies in road traffic accident

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Former Ferrari mechanic Nigel Stepney has died in a road traffic accident in the UK this morning at the age of 56.

The British engineer entered Formula 1 in the late 1970s, and worked his way up the ranks at teams such as Shadow and Benetton before joining Ferrari at the end of the 1990s. He was an intrinsic part of the ‘dream team’ that consisted of Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Jean Todt that won five straight drivers’ titles and six constructors’ crowns.

However, he fell from grace when he became embroiled in the espionage scandal that marred the 2007 Formula 1 season. Stepney was accused of sabotage during the Monaco Grand Prix that year when a white powder was found inside the Ferrari fuel tanks.

This then escalated when it was revealed he had been sharing sensitive information about the Ferrari F2007 car with McLaren’s Mike Coughlan. Ultimately, it resulted in McLaren being thrown out of the constructors’ championship that year and receiving a fine of $100m from the World Motor Sport Council.

Stepney was immediately fired, and never returned to Formula 1. However, he had most recently been working for JRM Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship as team manager.

A statement from JRM Racing reads:

“JRM regrets to announce that Nigel Stepney, the company’s Racing Team Manager and Technical Director, was killed in a car accident this morning. He was 56 years old and leaves his loving partner and daughter, Ash and Sabine Stepney.”

Team owner James Rumsey said: “Today, the motorsport world has lost one of its greatest characters and competitors. He will be sorely missed, and we send our sincere condolences to the many family and friends he leaves behind. Our prayers and thoughts are with Ash and Sabine.”

Nissan NISMO President Shoichi Miyatani also expressed his sincere sadness after working with Nigel for the past few years.

“It is with great sadness that we learn today of the loss of our friend, Nigel Stepney,” he said. “As the head of engineering at JRM, Nigel worked with NISMO since 2010. He led the JRM Racing team to the 2011 FIA GT1 World Driver’s Championship with the Nissan GT-R GT1 and most recently focused his efforts on the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, which won the 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series Pro-Am Championship in the hands of Nissan GT Academy team RJN.”

NBCSN analyst Steve Matchett tweeted out his sadness after hearing the news.

Very saddened by the news of the death of Nigel,” he said. “A terrible accident, a terrible loss. Without question I owe my entire F1 career to him. I was only thinking of Nigel yesterday, remembering the tears in his eyes when the pit lane personnel became aware of the death of Ayrton.

Curiously, he called me quite recently, out of the blue, a most unusual thing for him, just to ask how I was doing, to tell me he was happy.

Sometimes the world doesn’t make much sense.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.