In just two weeks, Ken Block's Gymkhana 4 has gone YouTube blockbuster, scoring over 7.2 million views. There's no question that the newest Gymkhana show entertains and delights eyeballs like a Michael Bay movie. This is good news mostly for Block's sponsors, but also for drift fans. With all this Gymkhana hype and buzz, drifters (read: professional tire killers) hope Block's Gymkhana Grid competition, inspired by these videos, will get kickstarted again.
Fans either love Gymkhana 4 or hate it. A telling stat is the nearly 2,000 YouTubers who disliked Gymkhana 4 in just 11 days. Compare that to 11-month-old Gymkhana 3, which has been viewed over 35 million times and collected 1,500 dislikes. In one corner, purists claim the explosions, zombie, Sasquatch, brick wall, and flying gorilla distracted from the driving. In the larger corner are the Block loyalists who say they enjoy drifting with Block through the carnival sideshow. Most of the negative comments about Gymkhana 4 also question Block's rally skills because of his WRC woes.
After over 110 million views accumulated in the Gymkhana megaplex, audiences might forget these Gymkhana videos were hatched allegedly as a way for Block to practice his driving skills. His series of "practice" videos have come a long way, and if budget is any metric, Block has his groove on here. Fans and critics can at least mostly agree that Block pilots a finely tuned marketing vehicle, maybe more powerful than his Ford Fiesta H.F.H.V mobile. Still, critics are quick to point out that Block is just about dead last in WRC standings.
"I think he is a decent driver that should improve as he gets more experience in WRC," says Mike Kojima, a chassis engineer for Falken Motorsports and part of Dai Yoshihara's crew. For the uninitiated, Yoshihara is currently first in 2011 Formula D ("D" is for Drift) Championship points and also earned first place for the rear-wheel drive division in the Block Invitational 2010 Gymkhana Grid Competition, and placed second overall.
Kojima, who is also Editor-in-Chief of MotoIQ.com, a car tuning website for enthusiasts who enjoy math and physics equations, said "I think Gymkhana is good experience for some driving skills needed for rally." But Kojima explains that WRC is a different beast and requires good chemistry between driver and navigator, endurance for the driver, car, and the whole team for a long event. "Lots of things need to click to be successful at WRC that fans never see, which are way beyond the driver."
Block may be in his rookie WRC year, but he's almost single-handedly brought Gymkhana back into American culture. One logical extension to all the attention would be a Block-esque Gymkhana competition. Block already launched and hosted an invitational called Gymkhana Grid with an inaugural drifting competition in December. But according to Kojima, inexplicably, the event was poorly promoted and not well attended by fans or the media. Not very Block-esque. Organizers could not be reached for comment.
Outside the U.S., Gymkhana is a popular grassroots motorsport. "Gymkhana competition, Ken Block style, is much more exciting than traditional Gymkhana, which to me is advanced parking. Ken Block's Gymkhana was much higher speed and much more technical than typical Gymkhana," said Kojima. "It combined elements from drag racing, drifting and Autocross which was very challenging for our team to adapt to. I really hope Ken decides to have more of these events and I think they could become popular if they are marketed properly."
But perhaps Americans would rather just stay home and watch Block on YouTube. And most likely, they will not be disappointed. If Block holds to form, 2012 may bring Gymkhana 5. Block says it's up to DC's marketing budget, "As long as it all keeps being successful, then we should be making number 5 next year," Block told ESPN. Since 2008's Gymkhana, when the first video captured the attention of Youtube desk-hoonigans everywhere, Block has released a new one every year. Gymkhana 4 will be a tough act to follow.
Eric Hsu, development engineer at Cosworth USA, literally inhaled Block's burnt rubber at the Gymkhana 4 filming in Hollywood. Hsu was one of two data acquisition wizards who ensured the Cosworth computer brains of Block's Hoon mobile was firing all its neurons."The car was virtually a brand new build that was rushed to the USA to film Gymkhana 4," said Hsu. Watching Block at work firsthand, Hsu says, "I think the KB wanted to have some fun with the whole Hollywood theme. Plus it gets the kids interested in cool cars also which inadvertently could be considered job security for me." Bottom line for all the critics, "I'm sure he's out there having more fun than you or me."
Block, currently in Australia preparing for his next WRC stage (Sept. 8-11), wrote, "I consider them [Gymkhana] successful if I'm happy with how they've turned out. And I'm definitely stoked with Gymkhana FOUR. It was a lot of fun driving in those crazy situations, and I really enjoyed the creative side of this one. So, the fact that it's already passed [7.2] million views is just icing on the cake for me."