Making a living in auto racing isn’t the easiest of tasks, and one has to be a bit creative in finding unique ways to prove worth. For motorsports professional Mike Maurini, its all about following dreams and exerting the effort in a desire to succeed.
Maurini is currently a spotter in the Verizon IndyCar Series for Andretti Autosport, serving as Marco Andretti’s “eye in the sky” since the 2016 season. The veteran began spotting in 2012 as part of a last-minute deal to help out Sebastien Bourdais at the Indianapolis 500. Before that, Maurini had been building a reputation in America’s karting ranks while still following the open-wheel racing scene closely.
In fact, the year prior to his debut with Bourdais at Indy, Maurini had linked up with Dan Wheldon and enticed the popular English driver to partner up on a unique karting venture.
“Before this deal (with Bourdais’ team), I was an avid follower of IndyCar and was working in the karting industry as one of the top tuners and driver coaches in North America,” said Maurini.
“In karting, I had hooked up with a track in Florida and met the late Dan Wheldon. We became good friends and had plans to launch an elite karting operation. Meeting throughout 2011, the plan was cancelled after his death in October of 2011.”
Following Wheldon’s passing, Maurini continued on with his karting aspirations and started a team in January 2012 – though on a smaller scale than what was previously discussed.
“Starting off small with a Mercedes Sprinter van, I grew the team into one of the top national level karting organizations in North America,” Maurini explained.
“With a 53’ Featherlite hauler, tent with sliding glass doors, and catering at each event, we were the premiere karting team and had the results to back it. With uncertainty in the karting industry, I decided to sell off inventory and give up the team in November of 2017.”
While the various karting ventures have been enjoyable for Maurini, an eye on the future has always been looking a bit further down the road.
“The entire time that I was doing the karting team, I was trying to break into the big car world,” Maurini admitted. “I spotted for Bourdais (and) did select events to fill in for other spotters, (working) with the likes of Jack Hawksworth (A.J. Foyt Racing), Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing), Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport), Bryan Clauson and then in 2016, I started with Marco Andretti.”
A home with Andretti Autosport
While Maurini bounced around from team to team between 2012 and 2016 as a spotter, it was an opportunity with the drawn-out Texas race from 2016 which enabled him to link up with Andretti Autosport.
“I was recommended to Paul (Ziggy) Harcus from Packy Wheeler to assist Marco during the rain-delayed Texas event in 2016 after his regular spotter was unable to attend the makeup race,” said Maurini. “I flew with Michael Andretti to and from the race and on the way home, was told that I did not need to go and spot for anyone else in the future as I would be with them.
“From that point forward, I have worked with and for Marco Andretti and am really happy with the complete Andretti Autosport organization.”
Since the latter part of 2016, Maurini has spotted for Andretti Autosport during all oval race weekends and even select road course events. While his main duties include spotting for Marco in IndyCar, Maurini has also been Dalton Kellett’s second set of eyes in Indy Lights for the past couple of seasons.
In his short time with Andretti Autosport, Maurini has been able to build a unique bond with Marco that has lasted longer than previous spotters have. The key to their longevity has been communication, Maurini says.
“I was told that Marco was known as the ‘Spotter Killer’ as he went through them more than any other driver, but I have developed a good rapport with him and have never had any major issues. If an issue does come up, we talk about it, work through it and move on.”
A man of many talents, Maurini has enjoyed a good bit of freedom while working under the Andretti banner as the team lets him spot in various disciplines such as ARCA, NASCAR, USAC and any other series that competes on the same weekend as IndyCar – just as long as they don’t conflict with any driver or strategy meetings.
On top of the spotter’s stand, Maurini’s list of responsibilities is extensive. His duties include calling all green flags, informing the crew when a team car hits pit lane, analyzing different lines that opponents are taking and communicating that with his driver, and of course watching out for any dangerous events that could collect his pilot.
Maurini even serves as a weatherman with his bird’s eye view, if necessary.
An interesting note to add is during races on ovals there is very little time spent watching his own car, Maurini says.
“(For) oval events, I always tell everyone I really don’t watch my car unless it is in a battle,” Maurini elaborates. “I am usually looking at the corner ahead to make sure nothing is happening there that would provide Marco or his car danger. If there is a car attacking from the rear, the focus switches to that but I am constantly scanning as far ahead as possible. Under yellow there is a lot more info to provide as Marco always wants to know where the sweepers are and where they have swept to maybe take advantage of these areas.
“The hardest thing is to keep up with the changing IndyCar liveries. As a driver you always want to know who you are racing or defending against, so communicating who is around Marco while on track is key. This includes who is in front, who is behind, how old their tires may be, if they are a lap down, or more.
“Spotting is more about being proactive than being reactive, as if you are the latter, you’re usually trying to save the car from an incident.”
The birth of Race Tech Development
While he would like to have clients in the IndyCar ranks on a consistent and regular basis, Maurini still takes pleasure in helping up-and-coming prospects find their way in a difficult youth motorsports landscape.
Living in Canada until a move to the United States in 2006, Maurini had started a motorsport media company called Autosports Media, preceding his current project in the states. In 2007, Race Tech Development (RTD) was born and became a “catch-all company” for Maurini to be the ultimate jack of all trades in karting.
He started by providing driver coaching, kart tuning and preparation and even media services to his clients while also working for motorsports magazines Shifter Kart Illustrated and Speedway USA. As time passed, Maurini’s desire to be a business owner grew and Race Tech Development evolved into the parent company of RTD Media & Management, RTD Autosport and RTD Karting.
Serving as the “heart of the business,” Maurini’s RTD Media & Management provides everything encompassing driver promotion. This includes media and marketing efforts as well as web site development, design work and social media plans to increase client exposure.
The current driver base working with RTD is scattered about the Pirelli World Challenge, IMSA, Pro Mazda, USF2000 and karting ranks.
RTD was even hired to help Conor Daly with all month of May media obligations, assigning Emilee Hunt to deal with sponsors, media and other assistant work to ensure the popular driver was always on-time and where he needed to be. For Maurini, though, it is the connection and an ability to help with younger drivers that leads the program forward.
“The reason I focus on the younger drivers is when they move from karting to cars, they easily get lost… I can be that familiar face that helps them with the transition,” Maurini explains.
“While there are a lot of great people in motorsports, there are also a lot of snakes that will try and ring your neck for as much money as possible and you’re done before you know it. I assist in the transition efforts, introduce younger people to drivers and teams in the big car world as well as help them make the process smooth.”
More precisely in karting, Maurini helps drivers develop the specific skill set required to succeed when the transition is made from karts to cars.
“Karting is all about 5 or 6 sessions in a day and drivers complete 80 – 100 laps, but in the car world it is a lot slower,” he says. “Drivers need to focus more out of the car than in the car, and it is a completely new way of thinking. Also, when drivers move from karting to cars, they sometimes have partners or sponsors and I kind of aid in making sure that those people get the promotion they deserve and are happy.
“(Additionally), there is more data to look at, analyzing of video as well as a different driving style. Younger drivers can be overwhelmed, and I try and ease all of this.”
Always an eye on the future
Moving forward, Maurini is excited for expansion and to watch his plans age into what will hopefully become an elite media operation. By utilizing the connections he has made across various racing disciplines and the incredible amount of hours poured into this investment, Maurini is the model of what young racing entrepreneurs should strive for.
In strengthening RTD Media & Management, Maurini is setting simple and attainable goals that will decidedly make a difference. Future plans don’t always have to be elaborate, just effective.
“The goal for RTD Media & Management is simple: grow and provide the best service we can,” states Maurini. “I would like to get up to five employees and help multiple drivers in all major forms of motorsports. I want to manage it all from above and work on business development for clients, but (first we) have to have the necessary people below me to help promote the drivers and deals that I am able to put in place.
“I want to develop the RTD name into a brand and have plans for more of this in the very near future. In fact, when I look back, the business has grown leaps and bounds from 2015 to 2016 and then 2016 to 2017. Now in 2018, we are attending nearly 30 event weekends across the country and I have had to turn some clients away as I was not ready for the increased expansion so soon.
“I am confident that I now have the proper people in the right positions as well as great alliances to help with services that are above and beyond my capabilities.”
With clients in both the Pro Mazda and USF2000 championships, Maurini works closely with and understands the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series. As the premier open-wheel development program in the United States, Maurini is a stout supporter of the MRTI and strives to promote it whenever possible.
“I think the Mazda Road to Indy is one of the best ladder or pipeline programs that is offered to young racers; a direct ladder to the top (for drivers) as well as team owners and engineers that work in all levels,” says Maurini.
“Establishing relationships in the MRTI program is easy and that goes a long way. Unlike other series, the racing is really good. (The) MRTI competes with a popular and growing brand such as IndyCar and provides quality technical procedures. The staff, from my point of view, has been great to deal with and they focus on helping the drivers grow, rather than put them down with penalties. It is really good.”
Realistically, there are always refinements that can be made and Maurini points out the importance of young drivers building OEM relationships while they are prospects. Mazda Road to Indy graduates may spend their developmental years as Mazda drivers, only to reach IndyCar and have to pick between Chevrolet or Honda without any previous ties to their programs.
“One of the problems that I never noticed until someone mentioned it to me recently was the Road to Indy uses Mazda engines, and as drivers climb the ladder to IndyCar, they have to make the switch to Honda or Chevy powered teams,” Maurini reiterates.
“I think that is a slight pitfall for drivers trying to build a relationship from an OEM, but then again, you can’t take anything away from Mazda for what they have done for the Road to Indy program.”
As summer nears and the American racing season kicks into high gear, so will Maurini. Last week he was at Road America for the Mazda Road to Indy two-day test that encompassed each of the three series in the program.
This week he is back to Road America for IndyCar and MRTI duties before jetting off to Iowa for IndyCar testing.
It is a tireless work ethic that has gotten Maurini to this point, and one would be a fool to expect that fire to burn out anytime soon.
Images provided courtesy of Mike Maurini.