DEARBORN -- Ken Block has already had a busy 2010, and the year is just barely started. Early in January, Block announced that he had forged a partnership with Ford Motor Company and would run an expanded rally schedule in ‘10 comprised of Rally America and X Games in the USA, as well as select World Rally Championship events in preparation for running a full WRC schedule in ‘11.
Literally, since New Year’s Day, Block has launched his own Monster World Rally Team, and has maintained a frantic pace of preparing, testing and running in two series simultaneously with two different cars—the Fiesta in Rally America and the Focus RS in WRC. Additionally, he has begun to build the Fiesta that will tackle the highly anticipated Gymkhana 3 this summer.
This Week In Ford Racing caught up with Block, who took a look ahead to this weekend’s 100 Acre Woods Rally in Missouri and next week’s WRC stop in Mexico, where he will make his WRC debut.
Q&A with Ken Block - Driver, Rally America Fiesta and the WRC Focus RS
Q. So what have you been up tp since Sno*Drift?
A. That is a good question. I have been on the go so much since Sno*Drift I should probably look at my calendar.
Since Sno*Drift, I went to the WRC launch in Paris where there was a lot of media, so it was photographs and interviews non-stop. I snuck home for a few days of snowboarding in Utah, but then it was back to Sweden for the season-opening WRC event where we were able to hang out with the Ford WRC team [Abu Dhabi Racing and M -Sport] and really get a feel for the process and how a team works at a WRC event. We were actually able to sit in the service area and kind of see how everything happens, so when we get to our first event in Mexico, we will be a little more experienced with everything that is going to go on and know what to expect. From there, I went to the Olsbergs MSE office in Sweden so we could work through some of the details with the Rally America program and the Gymkhana 3 Fiesta. Then I was off to the UK so I could have my first proper WRC test in the Focus RS, and now we are getting ready for the 100 Acre Woods Rally
Q. As you mentioned, you have been traveling non-stop since Sno*Drift. Has it been hard to get sufficient testing for your WRC debut?
A. I have made two attempts to do my testing for my WRC debut in Mexico. The first was right after the WRC press launch in Paris, but unfortunately when we showed up at the stage in the UK, it was covered in snow. So when you are getting ready for a hot dry desert event, testing in the snow is not what I needed, so that is one of the reasons I flew back and did the testing last week.
Unfortunately, when we showed up again the second time in the UK there was once again snow on the stage, but luckily it was just a dusting and the ground wasn’t frozen so it broke up pretty fast and I was able to get some testing in.
Q. Having now gone through a formal test, what are your thoughts on the Focus RS World Rally Car?
A. The WRC Focus RS is the most incredible piece of rally machinery that I have ever driven. I am really stoked to be getting into this car, because of where it stands in the world of rally—it is one of the top rally machines ever built.
I just had an amazing time. Unfortunately, I only got about 170 kilometers of testing in which is about 10 percent of what I really need to run to get ready for a WRC event. That is all that is really available to me right now, so I got the most time I could in one day in the car. I am as ready as I can hope to be after one day for my WRC debut in Mexico.
Q. You have said all along that amount the many challenges you will face the season, the biggest may be the struggle to get sufficient seat time in the Rally America Fiesta and the WRC Focus RS. You have also been very upfront that you view WRC as a learning experience this year and that you know you have to get your so-called WRC feet wet. What did you see or learn at the Swedish event that has prepared you for what is ahead?
A. We know most of the people in the sport now and we are starting to get familiar with the car and how everything works, but it was still a great experience to actually go there and be able to sit in the service area behind the mechanics and go into the strategy room and watch Malcom [Wilson, Manging Director, M-Sport] and his people work while the cars are out on the stages.
It just gives you such a different perspective than what you get from only being in the car. It was a great learning experience and every day that we are involved with M-Sport we really appreciate how well their program is set-up and we learn every time that we are around them and the car.
Both Alex [Gelsomino, Block co-driver] and I feel a lot more comfortable now with the process and the communication that we will be dealing with down in Mexico. Hopefully we will be able to have all of that stuff squared away beforehand and that way we can just focus on doing our job in the car and not worrying about the new procedures and any issues with the car and that type of thing. So far it has been a real amazing experience and I really look forward to just getting in the car and doing what I need to do down in Mexico.
Q. Before you go to Mexico for the WRC event, you have the second stop on the Rally America Championship, the 100 Acre Woods Rally, in Missouri this week.
A. I am really proud of the fact that I have won that rally [100 Acre Woods] four years in a row. That is sort of how my luck goes. There are certain events that I seem to struggle really hard at and there are other events that I really excel at. That particular event I really enjoy. It was the location five years ago of my first National Rally win. It holds a special place in my heart, and I look forward to going back there every year.
The characteristics of the road are something I really enjoy. They are very fast and flowing roads and it takes a lot of commitment to attack the road with as much speed as possible. If you don’t have that level of commitment then you just can’t make the times.
I can’t wait to get back there after the struggle we had at Sno*Drift. I am really looking forward to getting back in the little Fiesta and having a great time.
Q. You mentioned the Sno*Drift Rally. While you weren't able to finish on the podium as you had hoped, there were some big positives, such as the Monster Energy Drink Fiesta being fastest in the first stage of the rally.
A. I really enjoy driving in the snow at Sno*Drift. Every year that we have gone there the conditions have varied. Sometimes there are giant snow banks with a great snow base on the road and other times we have gone there and it has been not so good.
This year was the absolute worst conditions I have ever seen on those roads. Literally, the roads were a sheet of ice with very little snow bank along the side. It was literally the worst conditions that I have ever driven on in a rally car.
I went there with the idea of getting away from the event with some points. Being in a brand new car with a new team I knew it was going to take a little bit to get up to speed, but it was unfortunate that we had a small issue which put us out of the rally.
Still, starting off the season winning the first stage is a great way to start the year, but unfortunately we weren’t able to finish the rally. I am looking forward to really putting that behind us and getting a good test in right before the 100 Acre Woods and doing my best to win number five.
Q. Everything has come together so fast. With a couple of races and test under your belt, are you starting to feel comfortable within the programs?
A. In a word, no.
You know, changing manufacturers and getting used to three new cars and two new rally teams and a whole new set-up is something that doesn’t happen overnight. I have a great team around me and I am really happy with everything that we are doing, so overall I am very comfortable with the direction of what we are doing moving forward, but it is just going to take a few events for me to get a little more comfortable in the cars that I am driving this year. I don’t want that to sound like any kind of excuse. I am going to drive as hard as I can everywhere possible, but at the same time you got to be smart.
There is no use putting the car into the trees just because I am trying to prove some kind of random point. Both rally seasons, WRC and Rally America, play out over a long period of time and I am focused on long-term goals of trying to win the Rally America championship this year and really trying to develop my skills as far as possible in the WRC. It is actually going exceptionally well, but to say that I am totally comfortable with everything right now I would say no, and that is just because operating a team like this with as many events as we have this year is a huge challenge.
Starting from scratch is never an easy thing.