Are Block’s ARA title chances already over?

Ken Block has the pace, but is he still in the race? Luke Barry and Mason Runkel debate

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In a week where his striking ‘Hoonipigasus’ Porsche was unveiled ahead of the Pikes Peak hillclimb next month, Ken Block’s immediate attention will now be on how to recover ground in the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship.

Skipping Sno*Drift Rally as he always does, Block’s season began on the 100 Acre Wood Rally and in a super exciting – and also somewhat controversial – he brought a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC to the US and blitzed it, only for a deer to wander in his path and cost him victory.

It was a familiar feeling on the following event, the DirtFish Olympus Rally, but with much more dramatic consequences as Block crashed out in a huge 12G impact.

Ahead of this weekend’s Oregon Trail Rally, it means Block is just seventh in the points with a 35-point deficit to Subaru Motorsports USA’s Brandon Semenuk who won both of the last two rounds.

In the ARA a driver’s best six from a possible nine scores count towards their final points total, so all is very not lost for Block. But given this patchy start, are his title hopes already realistically over?

Luke Barry doesn’t think so, but Mason Runkel isn’t so convinced. Let the debate commence – and let us know who you side with in the comments:

Block is very much still in this

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The scores may as well be at zero this weekend. With six rounds left and a competitor’s six best scores to count, nobody’s position is safe. Block, Travis Pastrana and indeed anyone else can go on a rampant run and guarantee the championship for themselves.

Of course, so could Semenuk. And it must be stressed how well he is driving this year. As brilliant as it was to see Mark Piatkowski, in a modest L4WD Subaru, win at Sno*Drift, Semenuk had that one wrapped before a mechanical stopped him in his tracks. He then went and claimed the next two rallies, and won the finale last year too.

But Block had him licked at 100 Acre Wood. Yes, the Missouri stages are by far Block’s favorite of the season as he’s scored a record seven wins there before, but it was a bout of sheer misfortune that cost Block the win this year on debut in his new car.

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He then went and shunted at Olympus, but Block was closing fast on Semenuk having won SS2 before the off. Put simply, the Block and Hyundai partnership is one to be feared and it’s only a matter of time before it starts reaping the big results.

There’s nothing to suggest that Semenuk’s performances will relent, and this column isn’t to talk down his chances of a maiden US title. But with both drivers fully on song, Block has looked more than a match for his Subaru rival and doesn’t have the mental pressure of having anything to protect. He can simply go out and send it.

Will it be enough? Not if he doesn’t win the Oregon Trail Rally this weekend – which Block never has. But Block’s never had a car like the i20 Coupe WRC before. He’s still very much in this race.

Luke Barry

Semenuk is too strong


As someone who is very big on Block’s skill, and often defends him when the usual detracting comments roll in, I’d hate to add a voice to that crowd, but it’s nothing to do with Block himself.

Despite bad luck at 100AW and going a bit too wide on Olympus for an early retirement, Block has shown himself to be incredibly strong in the Hyundai i20 this year.

While Luke is correct, we could easily consider this the start of the championship in some ways with six events left, and only the top six being counted, for Semenuk, it’s a six event stretch with two mulligans.

For every result Semenuk puts in, Block will have to do one better and then some as we face the rest of the season. Doable for sure, but a tall order for anyone who might find themselves in the same position.

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Brandon Semenuk has proven to be dominant on stages that he’s rallied before. That doesn’t mean he’ll win, but that does mean he’ll put up a huge fight. Block knows all of the roads in the series well, but he’s still getting settled into his Hyundai it seems.

Oregon is vital for Block to put distance on Semenuk if he wants the championship, and if he does, I might change my tune. But with Semenuk already holding two wins, and only having two rounds in the rest of the championship he’s never competed on before, he has a very comfortable cushion that, from our interviews with him this year, he doesn’t plan to use.

Not to count Pastrana out, but I think the battle we’ll be watching this season will be Block vs Semenuk, only it’s Semenuk’s year. He’s all in, and he’s not backing down for anything.

Mason Runkel