After winning the final Global Rallycross Championship event of the year on Thursday in Las Vegas, Ken Block is following up with Monday's online premiere of "Gymkhana 6." The stunt-driving spectacle is the latest installment in a viral video series that has already gotten hundreds of millions of views on YouTube and shows no sign of slowing.
The latest entry in the series premiered last week with a screening at SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association's annual trade show in Las Vegas. XGames.com caught up with Block just as he was planning to unleash "Gymkhana 6" on the rest of the world.
XGames.com: Your previous video, "Gymkhana 5," has more than 54 million views and counting. How do you follow up on something like that?
Block: This is a totally different step than "Gymkhana 5," which was so good in its own way that we knew we had to go in a different direction. I think this video harkens back to the original Gymkhana video I did in my Subaru that started this whole thing, and it's cool for me to take my Ford Fiesta now and go do that style of driving even better, with a better car, on a better course, building on everything I've learned since then.
What's the pressure like, now that you know just how big the audience can be, as you're getting ready to release these videos?
I really enjoyed driving in this one and the response has been very good. We did a sneak preview at SEMA, and it's always great to get these projects out in front of an audience. I'll do stuff I personally think is cool, and then myself and my team watch it so many times and are so involved in every step of the concept that we can get jaded, so it's always awesome to see other people get super psyched on what we've done. For me, the pressure is always looking forward: What will we do for the next one?
This time around the focus is on your Gymkhana GRID concept, which has now had competitions all around the world and debuted at X Games Los Angeles this year, and really pushing that idea to an even further extreme.
The cool thing for me with this one is being able to tie in Global Rallycross, X Games, my Gymkhana GRID events and this video game I've been working on, "Need for Speed: Rivals," and bring in some new elements and more developed designs than we can do even on a competitive Gymkhana course, where we pretty much have a blank slate. We'd been working on the video game and thinking about, "If we could design any Gymkhana course we could dream up, what would that look like?" and then taking it that next step to bring that video game dream into the real world.
Another thing that was important was that we wanted it to look like a real race course. I grew up watching all kinds of racing, and I always loved the beautiful Formula 1 courses around the world, where the racing circuit, the podium areas, the start areas and everything else are all incorporated into the grand design to make it into a total spectacle. We wanted to bring some of that to the Gymkhana concept, and what we ended up with is a very cool, simple, well-designed course that really does translate well on video. As a result, this video's actually a bit shorter than some of the other Gymkhana videos, but there's, like, 12 different things that happen with nonstop action -- no breaks in between.
Which part of the course was the most challenging to get right during filming?
It was the big sweeping turn with tether balls hanging down around the whole turn. I had to hit them all, but the arc wasn't perfect, so it took me a few more tries than I wanted. The other challenge, which was out of our control, was we ended up shooting this one in only two days because it rained the day before we started filming, which put us behind trying to get the obstacles finished. It was a bit of a rush at times, but it all worked out, really, and I'm really happy with the end result.
Do you see any of these new features coming to actual Gymkhana GRID race courses in the future?
I think there are several things we can bring to the Gymkhana GRID with the right resources. One of my favorite things in this video is we cut open nine shipping containers and made a big S-turn shape where I slide through them and do a 360 at the last part. I would love to see something like that at X Games Austin next year, but it might be a bit beyond the budget. The good thing is we definitely have some new stuff to show them that could change up the dynamic. We're always looking to keep it exciting and bring new challenges.
This year you struggled in the Gymkhana GRID event at X Games. How different is your car setup for a video like this than it was for that event, or for a GRC race, for that matter?
The car is the same Ford Fiesta rallycross car I've been racing all year, built by the people at M-Sport. I've worked with them for a long time, because they're the company I race with in the World Rally Championship. They've been a great partner in building and helping develop these cars, taking a WRC car and making it into a rallycross car, and then we've done a lot of our own development.
X Games was a double challenge because for the GRC events we want much more power -- you want it really firing -- and for Gymkhana you want a bigger, wider power band. So we'll take the same car and put in a different turbo and make the power delivery a bit more tame and manageable. You also want the suspension to be a lot more controllable because you're changing directions and sliding a lot more, on a completely different type of tires. At X Games, where we were trying to have the best of both worlds in the same car, it was so aggressive that we were really having trouble. If you watch the video from X Games, I was sideways a lot more than I meant to be.
Congrats on your GRC win in Las Vegas and your three Rally America wins this year. I know in some ways the rest of your season didn't go the way you'd hoped.
I'm driving at the highest level I've ever driven, and qualified first in four out of nine GRC events, where I also won more heats than anyone. Unfortunately, that doesn't always translate always into wins when it matters. This week was my only GRC win this season, but I still finished third overall in the points, so it could have been better, but I'm not complaining.
I understand "Gymkhana 7" is already in development.
It's just really an amazing place that I'm in to be able to keep going out and making these dream projects. If everybody keeps watching them, I'll get to keep making more and more.