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Monday, July 27, 2015

How Ken Block Scares The Crap Out of Auto Journalists


Copyright © 2015 Bold Ride LLC.
Block Action 2

Ken Block is one heck of a rally driver and he owns the track. He also does the impossible in his Gymkhana videos, which always make it look like he’s on the raggedy edge of control.
The man is a crazy-good driver and he was recently in New Hampshire for the New England Forest Rally. Ford took the opportunity to send a few journalists up north for a drive with Block. It’ll be fun, they said. Ken Block, they said.

It’s one thing to sit in front of a computer screen and watch Block drive. It’s impressive and makes you hold your breath because it looks like he’s about to meet his doom. It could be a tree or a plummet from a barge into the ocean, but doom is lurking. Thankfully, he’s got mad skills and brass ones so he always pulls it off.

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Watching him drive in person is even more impressive. The sense of speed and the realization of how little room there is for error in his sport become glaring. The trees are impossibly close to his bumpers. The drop offs are deadly.

Ford invited a small group of journalists up to Team O’Neil Rally School in Dalton, New Hampshire while Block was in town for the rally. They asked us if we wanted to go for a ride and, because we’re all idiots, we said yes. They introduced us to Block, put helmets on our heads, and strapped us in to within an inch of our lives.

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The car in question was a Ford Fiesta R5 powered by an M-Sport developed 4-cylinder 2.0-liter turbo with direct injection and four-wheel drive. This is a step beyond the older R2 with its 3-cylinder, 1.0-liter engine and two-wheel drive although both have their place on the track. The R5 is a $300K car and, according to Block, it takes another $100K to keep it on the road for a season. This is not a cheap sport, so keeping the car maintained and striving to use parts through their designated lifespans is essential.

I think what happened next was that Block hit the gas, but it felt more like he engaged some kind of hidden rocket engines on loan from NASA. We didn’t so much start moving as we were suddenly careening down the track. It was fast.

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It looks great in videos. It looks better in person. It is unbelievable from the passenger seat. He thrashed that car for all it was worth and he made it look easy. The second it seemed as though we were about to die, he turned or slowed or slid so that we continued on our glorious rampage down the track.

At the end of the ride, each journalist got out of the car and laughed because not only were we alive, but holy heck, Ken Block cannot possibly be human. Also, our brains were mush from being rattled around in our skulls and laughing was all we could manage. It was totally worth the brain mush.