Eyes In The Sky

Mike Maurini and Dewayne Ellwanger. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

Mike Maurini and Dewayne Ellwanger. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine

Mike Maurini and Dewayne Ellwanger at Work.  [Photo by Eddie LePine]

Mike Maurini and Dewayne Ellwanger at Work. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

Anyone who follows motor racing knows that it is a team sport. The driver is the most visible member of the team, the one that is always being photographed or interviewed by the press and interacting with the fans. The crew members are the second most visible part of the team, as they are always working on the cars while fans look on in the garage area and they are the ones that get the TV time when the car makes a pit stop.

If you want to compare motor racing to football (American football, that is, not soccer), the driver is the quarterback and the crew makes up the defensive and offensive line.

Of course, the team is still not complete, as there is a small fraternity of dedicated individuals who are overseeing everything from their perch high above the action. They are the spotters, the guys who keep an eagle eye of what is going on out on the track and who are responsible for keeping their car and driver safe, out of harm’s way and constantly moving forward through the field.

They are like the coaches calling the plays from the press box at the stadium, high above the playing field with their eyes on the whole picture.

In this modern era of motorsports, and in particular professional endurance sports car racing like the Rolex 24 at Daytona, their services are vital to successful teams.

Two of the best in the business are here at Daytona this weekend, spotting for the Jackie Chan DCR JOTA team’s two Oreca LMP2 cars, with a total of eight drivers to keep track of and guide through the brutal Daytona traffic.

Dewayne Ellwanger and Mike Maurini are professional spotters and both are employed full time by Andretti Autosports in Indy car racing. They bring a very high level of professionalism to the spotter’s game at Daytona as both have a lot of experience in the field.

View from above at Daytona.  [Photo by Jack Webster]

View from above at Daytona. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Dewayne was Alexander Rossi’s spotter when he won the Indianapolis 500 and Mike has been on the Indy Car circuit for 5+ years, spotting for the likes of Josef Newgarden and currently spotting for Marco Andretti. In addition to their Indy Car duties, both also spot for Indy Lights at ovals (in Indy Car racing, spotters are not used on road courses).

Their efforts can make or break a race for a team or driver, and at Daytona for the Rolex 24 the pressure is on for the entire 24 hours. As Dewayne says, “I’m like an air traffic controller. I came down for the Roar, so I got a feel for what each guy wanted, because every driver is a little bit different. I let him (Mike) spot for the first hour so I could listen. Some drivers want more, some want less, so you’re just up there to give them pertinent information, not drive the car.”

How different is it spotting for the Rolex 24 versus spotting for Indy Car? Dewayne continues: “It’s a lot different. Like I said, you have four different drivers instead of one. You’re turning left and right instead of just left on ovals. Mike’s done the 24 hours before so he has a lot more experience at it. I’ve learned a lot from Mike this weekend. It’s completely different from Indy Car, especially with a 24 hour race.”

Mike talks about preparing for keeping track of eight different drivers in two cars for 24 hours: “We have a meeting and talk with the drivers to see what input they want. The first 20 hours or so of the race is just survival, just keeping them and the car safe so we can race at the end.”

Mike continues: “I’m going to start and finish the race so I am going to do first two or three hours and probably the last two hours. In between we will do three or four hour stints and even one longer one through the night so the other guy can get some sleep. You just kind of have to go with the flow.”

What is it like to work with a Formula One driver like Lance Stroll? Dewayne explains, “He’s awesome. He really gets it done down the back straight and into the bus stop. We were commenting last night how much time he makes up going into turn one and the bus stop. It’s incredible to watch.”

How important is a spotter at the Rolex? Very important when you consider how little vision there is available for the driver in these new generation prototype cars. There are lots of blind spots and a lot of places a driver can get into trouble – in particular entering the track from pit out and braking going into turn one or the bus stop.

So, while you are watching and enjoying the team sport of motor racing this weekend as you take in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, remember the coaches up high above the fray, the spotters. The guys that might just have the most stressful job on the team.

Share Button