Name: Ken Block
We’re very excited to see you coming to the International Rally of Whangarei in April. What made you choose New Zealand? And what car can fans expect to see you in?
I’ve always loved the roads in New Zealand and I haven’t had a chance to race on them since WRC in 2012. When we were plotting out my race calendar for this season, we realized that the Ford Fiesta HFHV—which is a similar car to the WRC Fiesta but with a different engine—that I race in the Rally America Championship, fit into the race regulations for the New Zealand National Championship, and that the first two races of the season fit into my available schedule. So, we figured out the racecar and team shipping and travel schedules and are now getting ready to race!
Having established superstar status for your car/gymkhana skills, what is the draw of rallying that keeps you coming back to it?
Stage Rally is where I started my career. I still love it and do it as often as I can every year. The Global RallyCross Championship is my main championship that I compete in nowadays, but I still try to fit in a few stage rallies every year because I love being out on the stage roads driving flat out, especially in unique places like New Zealand.
Do you feel any additional pressure to perform well during rallies because of your other successes in cars?
Not at all. I always put pressure on myself to do the absolute best that I possibly can, but I don’t let my other successes impact my driving behind the wheel. Every stage I race I try to give it 100%.
How easy do you find it to switch between disciplines e.g. Gymkahana to Rallycross to Rallying? How different are the cars and the setups?
I started doing Gymkhana to practice some of the driving techniques used in Stage Rally and in Rallycross. The cars themselves differ in terms of horsepower—I have more for Gymkhana and Rallycross driving, than Stage Rally—and tyres are different, obviously. Suspension-wise, things vary wildly between Stage Rally and Rallycross. A lot of that comes down to the surfaces we’re racing on that weekend.
Having competed around the world, where is your favourite rally and/or stage?
My favourite rally is a rally in the USA that I have won 7 times. It’s called The Rally In The 100 Acre Wood, which takes place in Missouri. But, my favorite roads in the entire world are the roads that I have raced on in the WRC NZ race, and the Whangarei roads.
What advice can you give to anyone wanting to get into rallying?
The best advice I can give is enrol yourself in a proper rally school and learn the fundamentals. Also, pace notes! Focus on making the best possible notes early on. They’re the key to staying fast on stage.
Being such an expensive sport to get into – even at club level, what advice can you give to drivers who are trying to gain sponsorship to help cover this expense?
I’d recommend that you take a step back and look at what you can offer the sponsor in terms of value. The more you can offer in exchange for their sponsorship dollars, the better. Good results aren’t enough. You need to set yourself apart from the rest of the field. Also, understanding marketing and what companies need to get in return for their marketing money is key to talking to potential sponsors and being successful with getting sponsored and keeping that sponsorship.
I have a bias towards the Mk2 Escort and still get goose bumps every time I’m photographing in a stage when a BDA screams past. We have seen a small amount of footage on YouTube of you in a MK2, but will we ever see you campaign a rally in one? I’m sure you would love the International Rally of Otago or the Silver Fern Rally.
I think someday in the future I could see myself doing some events in a Ford Mk2 Escort. I’m still a few years off from that—I just don’t have the time to spare right now—but I would enjoy it. Those cars are a ton of fun out on stage, and I think it’d be a great new challenge.