Taking on the Big Boys
Richard S. James
(ABOVE) The Ken Stout Racing Scion isn’t in the hunt for podiums just yet, but putting miles and laps on the new GTS contender is pushing the project forward.
It’s Saturday afternoon at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and bits of the FA20 engine from Robert Stout’s Scion FR-S Pirelli World Challenge GTS car are splayed out on a table in front of the car.
This isn’t the ideal condition for an engine, let alone one that was supposed to be pushing the car around the track in practice for the following day’s race a few hours ago. Instead, the FR-S is sitting under a cover in the section of the Long Beach Convention Center that serves as the World Challenge paddock. That’s not where Robert and his team owner and father, Ken, wanted to be; but neither is it entirely unanticipated.
“I did expect problems,” says Robert. “It’s not all that upsetting. Actually, I should rephrase that – it’s always upsetting, but it’s not that unexpected with a new car project like this. But we’re starting to figure it out.”
It’s not just that the Stouts and their team are developing the Scion FR-S (a car that didn’t exist this time last year) into a racer. But to develop it to compete in SCCA Pro Racing’s Pirelli World Challenge GTS class increases the difficulty exponentially.
The World Challenge series features modified production cars in sprint races under an hour in length. GTS is the second-fastest category, and is populated with cars that have pretty good specs right off the showroom floor – cars such as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Porsche Cayman, Lotus Exige and Aston Martin Vantage GT4; plus cars like RealTime Racing’s Acura TSXs that have years of development behind them.
Stout won the 2010 World Challenge Touring Car class title in a DG-Spec Scion tC, winning five races to become its youngest champion. The Touring Car class features cars like the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Jetta – cars with similar power to the FR-S. That makes the Stouts’ decision to race the car in GTS look a bit curious.
“The Touring Car class is a lot of fun and very competitive,” explains Ken. “But as a racecar driver, you always want to go faster. This particular class, GTS, is probably the most competitive out there. When you look at the GTS cars and you look at the factory involvement in it…if you’re truly competitive, this is where you want to be.”
The V8s in the Mustang, Camaro and Vantage GT4 all make more than 400hp in stock trim; the 2-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine in the FR-S produces half that in stock spec. While the FR-S has a significant weight advantage, it’s not enough to overcome the power deficit. So that’s where the Toyota Racing Development supercharger comes in. The blower boosts the flat-four to around 325hp, and the car’s lower heft brings the power-to-weight ratio nearer, if not yet equal, to the competition.
The supercharger is just one part of the equation that transforms the street FR-S into a competitive racecar. Ken Stout Racing picked the car up in Muncie, Ind., then took it to Raleigh, N.C., where it was completely stripped, seam welded and had a cage installed. Then the real work began.
“The entire car gets rewired,” says Ken. “And it’s a massive project, even with guys who are crazy sharp. The MoTeC box that’s in our car is a wide-open ECU that everything has to be written in. To get the engine to run, they wrote software for a full day, then spent two days on the dyno to shake it down and get it running OK.
“Even the MoTeC guys said it’s the most complex engine they’ve worked on, and they’re the best in the world. MoTeC Australia called MoTeC USA because they wanted the information out of my ECU. To say that we’re cutting edge is putting it mildly. And that’s cool; but I think cutting edge is cool for Penske and Ganassi. Ken Stout Racing doesn’t have the funds to be cutting edge!”
Of course, more power means the rest of the drivetrain must get stronger. Gearbox problems left the team sitting on the sidelines for much of the first two rounds at St. Petersburg, Fla., but a new Hewland transmission should help that problem.
It’s all a part of the challenge that comes with developing a new racecar. Robert, who started his racing career by pressuring his father about a kart that became a Christmas present, relishes that challenge and believes it will be worth it as the car continues to get more competitive in a series that he loves. While his father’s day job (see sidebar) exposed him to a wide variety of motorsports – he even tried a dirt late model – his passion lies in road racing, and production sports cars and World Challenge in particular.
“ Cutting edge is cool for Penske and Ganassi. We don’t have the funds to be cutting edge!”
(ABOVE) Robert Stout circulates ahead of World Challenge GTS benchmark Peter Cunningham’s Acura TSX. The longer-term plan is for Stout’s Scion FR-S to be actually racing these top guys.
“Pirelli World Challenge is an awesome series,” says Robert. “Just the people who run the series are amazing. They’re all friends, not just employees. And the format of the racing itself: No pit stops, no depending on co-drivers. You have the standing start – which is just awesome to watch and be a part of – and a 50-minute sprint. Whatever it takes, just get there and get it done; it’s all on you.”
Robert did take the green in Long Beach. An all-night thrash to repair the engine after the car lost oil pressure in Friday practice and spun a bearing got him out for qualifying on Sunday morning and allowed him to complete the race that afternoon. He didn’t set the world on fire, but he got some good laps in and lowered his times significantly from qualifying to race.
“We didn’t go out and win the race and destroy the whole field by any means,” he says, “but we made a massive step in the correct direction. We’re really happy with the results and how we were able to get some good, consistent data. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to finish a race!
“I think we have a good idea where the car stands, and we can dig into the details of what it wants now. We’ve got some serious laps under our belt and we can really only go forward from here.”
The 2013 Pirelli World Challenge airs on the NBC Sports Network as 90-minute or two-hour telecasts featuring extensive race action, feature segments and behind-the-scenes access. Or if you want to catch it live, check outworld-challenge.com for schedule info and the latest news and updates.
Ken Stout Racing may be new to Pirelli World Challenge GTS, but Ken is far from new to racing.
From his days announcing at the Englishtown dragstrip to his current gig providing commentary for the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, Dirt Late Models, Drag Boat Racing Series and Pro Pulling League, plus hostingLucas Oil On The Edge on SPEED Channel, Ken (RIGHT) had his hand in a variety of motorsports for almost two decades.
Short course off-road racing is a huge passion for Stout, but he loves all forms of racing, especially at the grassroots level. That appreciation for the guys who don’t normally get to shine on TV led him to create On The Edge.
“Myself and Steve Grein, who was my first cameraman, came up with the idea 10 years ago. We put all the little shows, all the grassroots stuff together, and it’s been phenomenal. Forrest Lucas loved the idea, and Lucas Oil came on board and sponsored the show – and nine years later, it’s still kicking butt.”