Rookie No More

Robert Stout was MX-5 Cup Rookie of the Year in 2017; now he eyes the championship

It may be hard to think of a guy who has a Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car title and has raced everything from winged sprint cars to the Deltawing prototype as a rookie, but last year Robert Stout was in his first season of competing in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires, and was thus worthy of the designation. He finished third in the championship and won Rookie of the Year honors, along with the $50,000 award that goes with it. That award helped him launch a second MX-5 Cup season, and now he’s focused on the overall title and its accompanying $200,000 Mazda scholarship. To do that, he believes he needs to focus less on wins and more on the bigger picture.

“Last year we started off with a deficit when the transponder didn’t work at the first round. I came into Round 2 with some fire and was ready to go. From that point on I had one goal, to win at all costs,” says Stout, who scored two victories in the Lucas Oil/ MX-5 in 2017. “I need to switch the roles. I need to be a little more aggressive in qualifying and a little more levelheaded come race time. Try not to get into these early battles 10 minutes into a race that still has 35 minutes left to go. Now, with the experience I have from last season, I know it’s a long season with a lot of racing, so I just need to be there. My goal is to get on the podium as much as possible this year. I want to top-three the series to death over and over again.”

At the season opener at Circuit of the Americas, Stout finished fifth and third, while Bryan Ortiz – whom Stout battled for Rookie of the Year last year despite Ortiz never standing on top step of the podium – and Mazda Road to 24 Shootout winner Selin Rollan scored the victories. It’s was a solid start, even if he would have preferred to be on the podium in both races. 

Stout’s big task is going to be understanding who is around him, whom he’s racing against, and exactly which drivers he can work with. “The key to being successful here is knowing whom you are racing around – knowing the people you are partnering up with for these practices and these qualifying sessions,” Stout says. “There are drivers from every end of the spectrum, so partnering yourself up with the right person is absolutely crucial.

“You know, you don’t have to qualify well here to race well, but in the race, you’ve got to stay in the fight. There tends to be a pack of six, seven, eight cars that’s up at the front and as long as you are in that pack during the last 10 minutes of the race, you have a chance to win it. So it’s partnering up with the right people, and maybe there are really good drivers who would be good to work with, but if your cars don’t sync up, if your strong suits and weak points don’t line up with one another, then it’s not going to work,” he explains.

Last year, Stout was often able to work with McCumbee-McAleer Racing teammate and eventual champion Patrick Gallagher. This year his closest ally is going to be former MRT24 Shootout winner Joey Bickers, with whom he was able to partner with for a bit in the second race at COTA. But that won’t always be the case, and he’ll have to find other allies if he’s going to make a run for the championship.

Stout’s next opportunity comes this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, the third and fourth rounds of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup.