PH Blog


Wednesday 18th July 2012


Whatever next for Ken Block? For the love of all that's sacred let's hope it's not Gymkhana Six...

What to say about Ken Block's Gymkhana Five? Posted up on July 9, at the time of writing this just 10 days later it's showing over 21m views. Am I the only one of those millions who, after the first minute or so, found themselves thinking "yeah, so what"?

I found it a weird sensation, for sure. After all, what's not to like about some gratuitous, beautifully filmed hooning by an incredibly skilled driver who, thanks to the power of his brand and the internet, can get large parts of one of America's major cities closed off simply so he can do some donuts for a YouTube film?

Tyre smoke, donuts ... seem familiar?
Tyre smoke, donuts ... seem familiar?
And yet, there I was. Bored. If it hadn't been for the sideways jump I'm not sure I'd have even watched it through to the end.

What I am not about to do, however, is indulge in some Block bashing. Some have gotten a bit snooty about his attempts at rally glory, the tyre marks on the road showing the practice runs and the rest. While he might not be about to challenge Loeb et al, he's clearly hugely talented at the wheel, a very smart businessman and, by all accounts, a very nice chap to boot with a genuine passion for rallying obvious in his rather more low key vid with a Mk2 Escort a while back. Meanwhile the original Gymkhana Practice video is an absolute masterpiece of opportunism, inventive use of new media, smart business and good old-fashioned entertainment. I looked at it again while musing on this rant and it has a charm and rawness about it that, for me, makes it more fun to watch than the latest one.

There are more interesting elements to the Block phenomenon too. Personally I'm fascinated at the way Ford has spotted an opportunity to use him as a way of introducing a very European, hot hatch-oriented/rally-centric take on performance cars to the US market. Sure, as we've seen, muscle cars are still a huge deal. And in a marketplace where you can get a 5.0-litre V8 Mustang for just $7,000 more than a Focus ST there's still a mountain to climb.

Block's fame is being used to push the Focus
Block's fame is being used to push the Focus
But the Focus ST is, as Ford puts it, the firm's first global performance car and it's clear there's more of a future in cars like that than there is live-axle equipped Mustangs. Block makes Fiestas and Focuses look cool to the next generation of American car buyers and Ford is being very smart in aligning itself with him.

Are yet more Gymkhana videos the way to do that? I think it may have run its course. Maybe I'm just being a bit snooty and European about it, but I can't help feeling the franchise has descended into a bit of an 'America, f*** yeah!' parody. I realise the pointlessness is the whole point and something to celebrate. But while I can watch the likes of Kankkunen and McRae (hat tip to Max_Torque in the thread after the Gymkhana Five story for the vid on the former) all day long I don't think I'll be rushing to watch Gymkhana Six, whenever it happens.

Block is a smart, talented and creative chap. I look forward to him being a bit more of the latter and doing something new next time round though.



Author: Dan Trent