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DEARBORN -- Google the words ‘Ken Block’ and the word Gymkhana pops up. Google ‘Gymkhana’ and Ken Block’s name appears. Block and Gymkhana are synonymous, not because Ken created the concept, but because he took the concept to an entirely different level and in the process reached 70 million people via YouTube. Yesterday, Block and DC, the company he co-founded, released Ken Block’s Gymkhana THREE Part 2; Ultimate Playground: L’Autodrome, the latest and some are already saying the greatest installment of Gymkhana. Block talks about his newest ‘can’t miss’ video and about his co-star - the Ford Fiesta.
Q. LET’S GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING, HOW DID THE GYMKHANA PHENOMENA BEGIN?
A. It happened because rally is one of the most expensive motorsports in the world to run and I was looking for a way to get more seat time, but do it in a much cheaper way. Gymkhana came to my attention because it’s like autocross, but they set up the courses in such a way where you have to slide and move the car around to actually get through the course quick, so it was very similar to tarmac rally. I just happened to have a car at the time that I wasn’t doing anything with, so I sat the car up specifically to do those Gymkhana events. As soon as I had the car set up specifically for those events, the organizer of the southern California Gymkhana series quit doing the events. So I had this amazing car specifically set up to do these Gymkhana events, but nothing to do with it anymore. So that’s when I went out and made the first Gymkhana video, which is called Gymkhana Practice and Testing. We went to the El Toro Airfield in southern California and set up a course around the airfield and we filmed it all. The reason I knew about El Toro is that is where I ran the first Gymkhana event that I had ever done. So we went back and edited this video and put it up online, expecting a couple hundred thousand views and we have ended up a couple of years later with somewhere between 25 and 30 million views. Because the response was so good to that video, we made Gymkhana TWO and have now launched Gymkhana THREE.
Q. YOUR VIDEOS HAVE MADE AN IMPACT. GYMKHANA TWO WAS JUST NAMED ONE OF THE TOP 10 VIRAL VIDEOS OF ALL TIME BY ADVERTISING AGE.
A. Yes it was and that was a huge surprise for me. That was something we never expected when we put together these videos. We are very happy that DC has had such great response from the videos but that was never the goal. Whenever you make a video and you put it up on YouTube you hope that it will do well, but Gymkhana has far far exceeded anything we had ever planned for it. The Ad Age thing is kind of funny to me because there are a lot of interesting companies on that Top 10 list. Most of those viral ads were produced by an ad agency so it is kind of cool that DC has produced these videos mostly in house and yet they are the top footwear company on the list.
Q. GYMKHANA HAS BECOME A PERSONAL CALLING CARD FOR YOU, AND YOU TAKE A LOT OF PRIDE IN THE PRODUCT. HOW MUCH PRESSURE IS THERE TO TOP THE PREVIOUS GYMKHANA AND NOT DISAPPOINT YOUR FANS?
A. It is really difficult. The thing about this stuff is things will usually go viral because people haven’t seen them before. That is what was kind of cool about the first Gymkhana video was that it was unique driving, even though there were a lot of rally drivers around the world who could do what I was doing, I had a specific car set-up and I was doing very specific things that people around the world had just not seen very much of. I really contribute a lot of the success of the first video to that aspect of it being new to a lot of people. Then for Gymkhana TWO we went a different direction to make it even more entertaining. There is a huge pressure because a lot of people are saying look at all the views this guy has garnered by producing this stuff, and he is doing another one. There is automatically an expectation that the numbers are going to be that big. We have worked really hard to make this one as good and as entertaining as possible. There is only so much I can do with the car, but what I am doing with the Fiesta, I am trying to do the best that I can. Hopefully everyone will be as entertained with Gymkhana THREE as they have been with the other two.
Q. ONE OF THE NEW ASPECTS TO GYMKHANA THREE IS THE PURPOSE-BUILT FORD FIESTA BUILT FOR YOU BY OLSBERGS MSE, THE GROUP THAT HAS DOMINATED X GAMES THE LAST TWO YEARS.
A. This year, with my new partnership with Ford, I have been involved in a lot of great opportunities. I was happy to build a new Gymkhana car with the Fiesta and I think to this point is has been a success. The new Fiesta is incredible. I learned a lot from the two other builds of Gymkhana cars before this one, so we were able to make this Fiesta Gymkhana car the best iteration ever of this sort of set up for me. It has been an amazing time working with Andreas [Eriksson] and the Olsbergs team to build this car from the ground up to be very specific and to do exactly what I wanted to do with the car out-driving this style. There are a lot of specialty set-ups in this car with suspension and gearbox and horsepower, and even the lightness of the car that makes this Fiesta the best Gymkhana car in the world.
Q. YOU LOOKED AT MULTIPLE LOCATIONS FOR GYMKHANA THREE. TELL US ABOUT THE SEARCH FOR THE LOCATION.
A. The concept was to find the ultimate place to be able to drive a car in this style. We looked at locations all around the world. We were looking for someplace that would be different and would be visually stunning and would be fun for me to incorporate the different types of obstacles into the filming and driving. We settled on Autodrome de Montlhéry, a place about 30 miles south of Paris that is a very, very old track that was built back in the 1920s and it is one of the steepest banked curved tracks in existence. It made for a very unique place for me to drive the Fiesta in a new way. It worked out to be the ultimate dream spot for me to be able to go do what I wanted to do.
Q. WHAT WILL PEOPLE BE MOST SURPRISED BY?
A. There is some unique driving and car control in there and I hope that is what they are most surprised by. On top of that, we tried to really make this video unique in the angles and the feel of the car. The Fiesta and this type of driving is so aggressive that anytime you video something it is very hard to get that feel across in videos. It just doesn’t come across the same way it does when it is live or someone is sitting in the seat next to you. We really tried to bring more of the raw feel of the car and the noise and how the car moves and how it feels and bring it alive in the video.
Q. WHAT WAS THE TOUGHEST THING YOU HAD TO DO DURING THE SHOOT?
A. For me, the toughest thing was dealing with the banking. On 51-degree banking, the car just doesn’t react and do things the way it does on the flat ground. On the 51-degree banking unless you are over 100 mph the car does not stick to the banking, so there were times when I would slow down to start a maneuver and car would literally start to fall down the transition.
Q. FRANCIS FORD COPOLLA ONLY MADE THREE GODFATHER MOVIES. DO YOU RETIRE THE CONCEPT AFTER GYMKHANA THREE, OR HAVE YOU BEGUN TO THINK ABOUT GYMKHANA FOUR?
A. We will let the public decided that. If there is a great response to Gymkahan THREE like I hope there will be, then maybe we will continue to make more. I am lucky that I get to go out and make these videos and have fun with cars like the Fiesta, so I hope there is a great response so we can come up with more ideas and go out and make more videos.