February 2nd, 2010

A new kid on the Block

If you asked someone of my generation to sum up the WRC in three points, I would imagine it would go something like this: Colin McRae, Subaru vs. Mitsubishi and ‘Motorsport for nutters’. Now if I asked the same question to ‘Generation Z’, I think the response would be: Sébastien Loeb, a Playstation game and ‘something that is left to be repeated on a channel named after a generic British lad’. But this may all change in 2010, with the introduction of Ken Block to the WRC scene.

Fresh from his appearances on the web, Ken Block is the driving sensation who is rapidly catching up with the sneezing Panda in YouTube views due to his driving lunacy. However later on this month Block is entering the WRC with Ford, to become the first ever person to enter the top flight of rallying  from the USA.

“I am stoked to be rallying in a Ford. They are an impressive force in the sport,” said Ken Block. “From the days of the 1970s Escorts to the Group B RS200 to the modern-day Focus and now the Fiesta, Ford just does an excellent job at rally and I couldn’t be happier to now be part of this amazing heritage. Not to mention my dad would be proud. He was a dedicated Ford guy.”

Block’s entrance to motorsport has always been a weird one for me. He was one of the founders of DC Shoes and I have always been a bit sceptical about his intentions on entering rallying. European rallying is all about sitting on the corner of a road in the middle of a forest, waiting to get a face full of gravel every fifteen minutes. When Block started rallying he made it, well, more American. Big jumps, big budgets and big commercial opportunities are what rallying is all about in USA. I am not condemning Ken for this, it makes good business sense to slap your company stickers all over a rally cars and jump a couple of hundred feet. But I am not sure if it will make him competitive in the WRC.

Having grown up in Long Beach California, Ken wasn’t born in a snowed in wood cabin on the edge of a frozen lake in Scandinavia, like most of his WRC competitors. Block is a business man who has fallen in to rallying through the help of the viral nature of internet and having a great deal of talent.

But racing in the WRC is very different to staging choreographed drifts in front of some HD cameras. Block realises the difficulty of racing with the big boys.

“Racing in the World Rally Championship has always been a dream of mine but I’d still be dreaming if I promised podiums in the near future,” says Block. “I will be going head-to-head with the greatest drivers on the planet. And sure, I will be giving it my all but my main objective for 2010 is to develop into a competitive driver for 2011 and beyond.”

Block will pilot a 2011 Ford Fiesta based on the race-winning European Rallycross Fiesta prepared by Olsbergs Motorsports Evolution for the Rally America events and swap to a Focus for the WRC.

We will just have to wait until the WRC lands in Sweden this month to see how Block does. But one thing is for sure that he will probably very entertaining to watch and enthusiastic in interviews. Hopefully with the emergence of Block, rallying will once again be accessible to younger generations, instead of being left to be cut into crash montages on Dave.