On the Limit: Ken Block and Rally

Posted on 19. Nov, 2008 by in Features, RA 2008, Tall Pines 2008


Four years ago, a brand new driver arrived at the Rally of the Tall Pines for his rally debut. After an off road excursion that ended his event, the driver left Bancroft and didn't return until 2007. In the years between events, that driver went from an unknown to one of the top names in North American rally.

Ken Block has been a fan of rallying since first seeing it as a kid. The experience galvanized his interest in the sport and set the stage for the development of his unique rally career.


“I remember seeing rally on TV and being amazed by how fast they would go, flat out over fast roads. That's what has been ingrained in me,” explained Block. The Subaru Rally Team USA driver is known for his flat out speed. Excelling on fast, open courses, Ken has worked this style to win some of the fastest rallies in North America, including the 100 Acre Wood three years in a row.


Since getting started at Tall Pines in 2004, Block has run over fifty rallies, including select WRC events and other international events in New Zealand and the UK and Mexico.

“I love driving rally cars, I mean, I just love it! I love being in the rally car. I just show up to win, not just podium. I want to be at the top.”


While Block has proved to be amazingly fast, he has never won an outright championship. That could all change this weekend at the Rally of the Tall Pines, where Ken Block and Antoine L'Estage are vying for the North American Rally Cup.

“It's all about the battle with Antoine, the challenge,” says Block. “Antoine has had great success at Pines, and I have only failed there. It's probably the most technical rally in North America.”

Block has been working hard to become a better driver, developing his driving technique as well as the supporting skills of writing pacenotes and learning how to recce. He has traveled to events in New Zealand, Mexico and Great Britain to gain experience in these areas. He has also come north of the border, most recently for Rallye Baie Des Chaleurs in June where he won the event. Ken has done almost every rally with co-driver Alex Gelsomino, and the pair have a great relationship in the car.

“Two pass recce is the biggest challenge for me, because I don't have much chance to do that in the US. Really, the understanding of the road is the difference between a good driver and a great driver.”



While in New Zealand in 2007, Block took his rally car to Snow Park, a massive snowboard park where he sessioned the jumps and slopes alongside DC sponsored athletes. Block has also pushed the limits of what a rally car can do, jumping 171 feet for a the Stunt Junkies TV show and most recently performing a simultaneous double jump with teammate Travis Pastrana backflipping over his Subaru. Gymkhana is his latest interest - a sport requiring the utmost in car control. To see what Ken can do, just check out his latest video below!


Ken Block is also one of the brains behind the DC Shoe Company. A huge brand in extreme sports, the brand covers skateboarding, snowboarding as well as lifestyle and motorsport. A co-founder and now Chief Brand Officer, Block has played a role in the creation and growth of the company since day one. Working to make sure that the design and marketing of their products fits their target audience, Ken knows a thing or two about how to build a brand. So for a guy who has this sort of understanding, one might wonder what rallying in North America needs to do to continue it's growth.


“I get asked that a lot,” laughs Block, “but there's no magic crystal ball for that. In North America, stadium sports seem to do really well. Just look at football, basketball or NASCAR. For rallying, which isn't a stadium sport, a quality TV show is critical. Rallying is a very unique, youthful, touchable sport.”

Block has also had some great success in the stadium format of rally held each year at X Games. Asked if this could be the future of the sport to make it more accessible for North American audiences, he replies, “It's an interesting idea, but I am in rally because I want to drive two hours each weekend, not one minute. Still, a few of those events as part of a bigger series could make things pretty interesting. The X Games event is great exposure for the sport and for sponsors of the sport.”


It was at X Games 2006 that Ken Block first met the late Colin McRae. The two battled in 2007, with Block beating out the former world champion.


“That was one of my favourite rally memories, going head to head with McRae, and pressuring him into a roll.”

A little over a year later, in September of 2008, Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino crossed the Atlantic to participate in the Colin McRae Forest Stages rally. A who's who in world rallying was on hand to run the event in tribute to McRae. Block joined many of the others who had chosen historic vehicles, and entered a Ford Escort. He had no time to test the car before the event, only getting a couple rides in similar cars.

“I got a ride with one of Colin's best friends in a open class Escort, so it had a bigger engine and better brakes and suspension,” started Block. “We were flying, and I was scared. I just couldn't believe how fast we were going, I couldn't understand it. Afterwards, I went for a ride in a historic Escort, driven by Alistair McRae. It took a lot more finesse, but was still really fast. It's amazing to see the skills, I can't even fathom it.”

When it came time to drive one of these cars, Block got off to a rough start, rolling the car before the start of the event, and then suffering problems throughout the rest of the rally.

“I'd really like to go back and do well at that event. This time, I really sucked,” laughed Block. “I still had a smile ear to ear through the event!”

Looking into the future, Block hopes he and Gelsomino can continue to improve and become even more dominant. 


“Continuing to learn and develop as a driver is a really fun process for me. My goal is very personal – to be the best rally driver I can be. It's one of the best motorsport skills in the world.”


But first, Block is hoping his skills have developed enough that he can beat out his competition at the Rally of the Tall Pines and win the North American Rally Cup. One thing is certain, Ken Block will be pushing all the way.










One Response to “On the Limit: Ken Block and Rally”

  1. Eric Grochowski

    21. Nov, 2008

    Awesome write up Dean!

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