|March 02, 2009 News
|On the Road: The Life of a Journeyman Mechanic - Mike Maurini - Day 1 and 2
| Mike Maurini|
The following edition of 'On the Road' takes a look at one of the busiest young men in the industry, Mike Maurini. Many of you know him for his position with the FirstKart.com race team and with the Shifter Kart Illustrated, with whom he worked earlier in the decade. Now, Maurini has created his own business, Race Tech Development, and is working as a wrench for top karters across the country. His diversified program also includes other facets of the industry, including press release work for the Stars of Karting and a select list of drivers.
When I was asked to complete the task of a week-long diary for EKN, I was confused on where I would find the time given my hectic schedule through the months of February and March. Working and being on the road for seven straight weeks was going to be tough, but I knew I would find a way to get it done. In between family time, working and trying to take a day off while traveling 45 of 56 straight days, the EKN On The Road segment would find a place in my life and on my computer.
I will get started by providing a little background information on myself. I have been involved in karting for 18 years now as a driver, media supplier, employee and entrepreneur. Trying to make it in the world of motorsports is tough and trying to run a successful business in karting may be even tougher. After gaining experience with a few different companies, I decided to go out on my own in the middle of 2008 and start my own deal. That was the birth of Race Tech Development. Providing freelance work for a pair of drivers during the latter half of '08, the 2009 season would see me strike a deal with the Ocala Gran Prix team for the Florida Winter Tour, Joey Collins for the Gatorz Challenge of the Americas and Tyler Thomas for the WKA Manufacturer’s Cup and Snap-on Stars of Karting Series. Mix all that in with testing and the media work I provide, and off-weekends would fall few and far between.
After a full two weeks in Florida working the Rotax weekend with the Ocala Gran Prix team and the CIK weekend with Team Top Kart USA’s Tyler Thomas, I traveled home for a whopping 30 hours before I repacked my bags and headed to California. Working with Joey Collins in the Senior Max division, we would be looking to continue the podium streak as well as keep the point lead as we entered the third and fourth rounds of the Gatorz Challenge of the Americas Series.
Arriving in the sunny and warm California area on Wednesday afternoon, I had some time to relax and enjoy the area. Empire Karts owners Bill and Sharon Barros were kind enough to open their house to me as I would spend the next five days in the spare room at Casa de Barros. The Barros family is well-known throughout the California karting ranks and I have become good friends with the family. Seeing them only at the race track, a familiar face away from home is always welcome.
Thursday is normally reserved for set-up at these events, but limited track testing prior to the event due to the NASCAR race here and a new track surface, drivers would be welcomed with open practice on Thursday afternoon before Friday’s official sessions took place. Having to run in a fresh motor, we began working on carburetor set-ups rather than chasing the track for that elusive set-up. Getting a good baseline was a start and on Friday morning we would be at it early looking to get up to speed.
| Maurini worked with Cyndie Allemann and Spencer Pigot, nearly winning the 2008 Mazda RoboPong 200|
Friday morning came early as we were at the track at the crack of dawn. With five practice sessions, we would begin the day by learning from yesterday’s data, making some minor chassis changes. Joey is known as the 'King of Rotax' on the West Coast, so I would leave the driving up to him as I tried to dial in the chassis. Luckily enough, we had the luxury of pitting with the Miinch family, as Taylor would be driving in the Junior class working with tuner Wesley Boswell. With our trailer located right next to Phil De La O and Gary Carlton, we were in good ‘fast’ company throughout the weekend. By the time the checkered flag flew on the final session of the day, we ended up second quickest with a lap time on 51.787, a scant .002 off the fastest time of the day.
Now having worked with a lot of drivers including Chris Larson, Tony Loniewski, Spencer Pigot, Miles Maroney, Tyler Thomas, Kevin Monteith, Alan Rudolph, Cyndie Allemann and Kyle Wiegand, Joey Collins is a little different to the aforementioned group. With a laid back “dude-type” attitude, Collins is a different person under the helmet and very in-tune to what he needs to drive fast. At the end of Friday, we took the set-up that we had and with his feedback from the final session, tweaked it slightly to help us for Saturday morning. A special thanks has to go out to Kevin Loster, who has been available by phone providing carburetion ideas, as well as Darko Orcic for his help throughout the day.
With the day complete, the front torsion bar was changed to stiffer set-up to help with front grip. The rear axle assembly was also removed to clean and prep for the next day’s action. During the day, we had a minor axle shift that caused us to miss half a session, so we figured preventative maintenance was better then having it happen again. A minor change in the rear width, cleaning of the power valve and a jet change was all that was needed for the morning and a 6:00 pm track departure was totally out of the norm and well deserved with only four nights sleeping in my own bed in the next month.
With a lot of Rotax top dogs based on the West Coast, the CalSpeed event was going to be tough. Wes Phillips, Joey Licata, Joey Wimsett, Michael Self are some of the Rotax Senior drivers that have a shot at the victory and all very fast in Rotax powered machines.
Saturday morning started off a little slow for Collins and myself as we found ourselves only seventh quickest after the morning practice session…..Apparently the changes from the night before was not helping our speed. With tires that were well used, we were betting that the major problem was lack of grip and didn’t want to make too many changes for the qualifying session. Some quick clutch maintenance and power valve work and we were back on the grid for a very important qualifying session. At the Gatorz COA series, five bonus points are warded for the pole position as well as the fastest lap in the main event. Ten points goes to the winner of the pre final with points awarded back to tenth, tenth place receiving one point and 200 points for the main event win….A clean sweep of the day would give you 220 points.
Qualifying was better for us but not what we had expected. Wes Phillips grabbed the pole and five points with Joey Licata taking the outside front row starting spot. We managed to grab the third position with third through tenth being separated by less than two tenths of a second. After a quick debrief with Joey and a look at the data, we could see that we were lacking some mid range power as well as a little off on the kart itself. A jet change and a float level adjustment were in order as well as a minor front end change to the kart. Lacking a little RPM, we decided to throw a gear at it to see what would happen….it couldn’t hurt as we were .550 off at the end of the session.
The First corner at CalSpeed running the counter clockwise direction is a little hairy as we lined up on the inside second row. A great start helped us maintain our position as the leader jetted away to a ten kart length lead. As the race wore on, we were consistently improving on times while Phillips in first and Licata in second were slowing slightly. Using them as a rabbit, Joey Collins reeled them in scoring the fastest lap of the race but was unable to advance his position in the running order. Off the track and through the scales, the top five were pulled into post tech where they inspected the carburetor, squish, air box and pipe. All legal so it was back to the pits for lunch, debriefs and changes before the important main event.
| Maurini will be working with Tyler Thomas throughout the season, beginning with the upcoming Stars of Karting Ocala event|
(Photo: Corby Concepts)
Feeling that we solved our mid range power issue, it was time to work on the chassis and get it perfect. We knew we were headed in the right direction with our changes as we turned the quickest lap of the pre final on the final circuit of the race. With Joey’s feedback and looking at the wear on the tires, I made the decision to go one axle stiffer as well as put some positive camber into the front of the kart. Again some clutch maintenance was in order before double checking and securing anything that would cause us no to finish the 25 lap main event.
With the nerves rolling, the green flag flew and Collins quickly advanced forward to make it three wide entering the first corner. A bold move indeed, Collins managed to gain one spot as the leader again quickly jetted out to an almost 15 kart length lead. Collins ran second with Licata and Stepenova Nekeel in tow. Turning comparable lap times to the leader and with Licata very quick behind us, it looked as if we would be battling for P2 before the half way point of the race. With a kart setup to really come on at the end of the race, Collins began to get quicker as he let Licata through for the second position. Working together around the 50 second track, Licata and Collins drafted up to Phillips and took the top two positions with eight laps remaining. Phillips bobbled the exit of the corner slightly and was quickly demoted to the fourth position. With the kart getting better and better with each passing lap, Collins turned the quickest lap time of the event as he drafted past Licata for the lead. Opening a slight gap, Licata was challenged by Phillips, who once again found the speed and moved into the second spot. With a five kart length lead, the bus driver Joey Collins and myself, took the second victory of the series and extended our point lead.
Passing the scale weigh in, it was again off to post tech where I was immediately informed to remove the motor. Again the carburetor was checked along with the balancing shaft gears in the Rotax motor and then the congratulatory handshake from the tech director confirming the finishing position….Oh what a feeling!!!
Top Kart teammate Taylor Miinch was on track and by the time we had cleared post tech, he had scored a solid second place result. Empire Kart owner Bill Barros and son Steven were in attendance throughout the day lending their hand and providing support for the two Top Kart drivers on the property.
Back to the trailer for tomorrows prep work we went as I went through the normal evening routine. Taking out the axle, cleaning the kart, front end alignment, new chain, new gear, clean power valve and check clutch all seems a little easier after a big win. Having finished our race before 4pm in the afternoon, it was another early night as I departed the track for Casa de Barros yet again. Having arrive before 7am this morning and working hard throughout the day, I was exhausted and headed directly back to the house to shower….No dinner for me tonight. A phone call to the wife who was three hours ahead on Eastern time was great as we discussed our day on the 20 minute ride home….Thankfully she allows me to do what I do.
After arriving back to my make shift hotel room, I quickly replied to some important e-mails and began to run through the championship points in my head. With the COA providing a direct transfer spot to the Rotax world finals, the title is a very important goal for me. Pen and paper were in order and before the drops our factored in, Collin scored 200 points for the win, five points for fast lap and eight points for a third place result in the pre final giving us 213 on the day and the title chase lead by 48 points.
Providing media work for the Snap-on Stars of Karting Series is what takes up my days while I am at home but when on the road, night time is reserved for that. With the upcoming East division opener at Ocala Gran Prix pre event coverage and announcements information fill my inbox. With a press release lineup longer then my arm, it was off for some writing before bed. Also, as if I wasn’t busy enough, I was contacted by a team/driver for some IKF work in the Region 7 area and need to confirm my yearly schedule before committing more time…..Honey, can I go away again??
Every night before bed is committed to calling and chatting with Elena but due to the three hour time change, it would put her well after midnight. The short drive home gives us some time but not really enough when you travel as much as I do. We have been married for two and half years now and she is the one that puts up with all my crap. Having a relationship is always good, but having one where you see your significant other as little as we do is even tougher. Working together in almost everything we do, Elena and I get along very well and always find time for each other. Whenever I return back to my storage unit, errr, I mean house in Indiana, she is always there willing to help me with whatever needs to be done. Man do I owe her!
| The Miinch Motorsports compound for the Gatorz CalSpeed event|
(Photo: Race Tech Development)
Come Sunday morning, I was up before my 6am wake up call. Maybe because I wasn’t use to the time change yet or just excited for the day, I quickly got ready and was on the road to Auto Club Speedway, via Starbucks of course. With the kart relatively ready to go, I arrived at the track around 7am to meet the Minnch’s, the Collins and Taylor’s tuner Wesley Boswell. After unloading the trailer and going through the necessary morning routines, we began checking the air density as we do almost every half an hour during a big event. Recording data throughout the practice days makes for easier jetting decisions on race days.
Morning warm up was pretty good for us as we were able to run in the top five with a pretty quick time. Running in the mid 50 second bracket, that time would have put us on the pole for Saturday’s competition. With some a minor push on the entry to the corner, chassis changes were to help better the turn in before the qualifying session. With the corrected altitude rising, we also decided on a jet change to ensure a good run in qualifying.
When making the above mentioned changes, we found a small oil leak from the side cover gasket on the Marin Karting prepared powerplant. It seems as if a gasket had been torn after the rebuild from Saturday’s tech as oil was leaking and an engine removal to fix the problem was needed. Looking as if it was going to be a thrash to make the qualifying session, I quickly removed the motor as Joey went to find the necessary gasket and gear oil to replace the stuff that had leaked out. Working together as a team, we managed to get everything back together and the changes for qualifying made with ten minutes to spare.
With a plan to hot pit the kart in the middle of the session, we chose to head out early and lay down a lap time. With a very quick time, I signaled for Joey to exit the track as we sat on the pole by less then a tenth of a second. Into the pits Collins came, as I bled down the tire pressure before listening to the run order for the announcer. With about 6 minutes to go in the qualifying session, Joey Licata went fast and grabbed the pole but the next lap was overtaken by Wes Phillips. Wes is a solid racer, one of Joey’s biggest rivals and the other serious championship contender. Phillip and Collins battled last year tooth and nail through the COA series with Phillips edging him by a mere six points to win the trip to the Rotax World Finals.
Collins headed back out on course for the final four minutes as other drivers pitted. With a free track, the Top Kart pilot laid another flyer down and went quicker then his previous lap but came .091 seconds shy of the elusive pole position and five bonus points.
The pre final would set up an epic battle between Phillips, Collins, Nekeel, Wimsett and Garrison Masters as the five drivers traded the lead several times before the half way point. After the dust had settled the cream had risen to the top as Phillips and Collins were nose to tail puling away from the field. Mounting a serious charge, Collins was able to get by Phillips only to give it back in the next corner settling for a second place result.
| Top Kart-Rotax was the package under Maurini's care with Collins behind the wheel|
(Photo: Race Tech Development)
With almost a two hour break before the final, Collins and I talked about a serious carburetion change that would either make it or break it for the day. As I worked on freeing up the rear of the kart, I pondered our idea and decided against it as a bad finish would hurt us in the championship chase. We decided on a minor main jet change as well as moving some weight on the rear of the seat forward to better help the rotation of the kart in the middle of the corner. After checking tire pressures, the Senior Max class was being called to the grid for the main event.
Starting from the outside pole position is tough task at CalSpeed but I had a feeling that we were up for the task. Exiting the first corner in second was a good sign but the rest of the lap was a disaster as Collins fell down to the seventh position. Frustrated with the current running order, I walked away from the spectator viewing area to stand alone beside the post race technical inspection. Our championship rival had jumped out to a huge lead and we were doomed if Joey could not make something happen. As I started my normal split times, I could see that in a clear track we were fast, well as fast as the leader. With a determined attitude, Collins put his head down and drove a smarter last half of the race as he moved to sixth, fifth and then fourth. Running consistently faster and faster with each passing lap, Joey moved into a podium position as he got by Masters with three laps to go. Never satisfied, Collins then chased down and passed Joey Wimsett for the second podium position when the checkered flag flew. Talk about damage control gone well….We turned a dismal finish into the best possible outcome. Thank god.
After clearing scales by a slim one pound over the legal limit, it was off to the familiar post race tech area. Now these guys deserve some credit, Don Mortermister and his crew are at the track from sun up to sun down making sure everyone is legal. When you see these guys a lot in a weekend, you know that you have done well and this was our sixth time to tech after a possible six chances, so things were well. With the first place finisher asked to remove his motor, I was told to sit tight as they tore his motor apart. Removing cranks and measuring every nut and bolt was in order and all was good with him. With the winner out of the way, I was asked to remove the cylinder for technical inspection and was finally given the handshake assuring a second place result.
Having run through the schedule fairly quick on Sunday, we were done packing the trailer and ready to go by 5:30pm. I packed Joey’s disassembled motor in a box and prepared to have Joey’s step dad send it out for rebuild for the final race in one month’s time at Willow in Rosamond, California.
Exhausted after the third week in a row on the road, it was a phone call to Elena while in the car to fill her in on the day. With me in 80 degree weather and her in 20 degree and snow storms, she was not too happy to hear that I was sun burnt. A short talk was all that we could get as she was busy doing stuff around the house and was ready for bed. On the way home, a quick stop at Panera Bread for dinner was the plan before I headed back to Casa de Barros for the evening. With a 7:00am flight on Monday morning, I would proceed to pack my bag and set my wake up call for 4:45am….urgh!
Laying in bed, I ran over the entire weekend and thought about the stuff that we could do to make it better the next time. Fortunate that we entered the weekend with a 30 point advantage, Collins did well to only lose eight points to Phillips in the title chase and the trip to the Rotax Grand Finals. The final event in the Gatorz series is going to be an all out battle royale for the title and I can’t wait to get it started….also, not to mention, that will be my last week of seven on the road…..
Stay tuned all this week for my, On the Road: The Life of a Journeyman Mechanic segment. Thanks.
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