Ken Block smiled. He’s seen it all before. And he’s given as good as he’s got. But this time Travis Pastrana had him stumped.
The words DirtFish had got from the Subaru star after the 100 Acre Wood Rally put Block briefly on the back foot.
“Did you read it?” he asks.
“I read that and I was like: ‘Really, dude?’
“I like Travis, he and I are great competitors, but he’s got this one wrong and I was slightly surprised at what he said.”
Before we go any further, probably best fill you in on Pastrana’s point.
Hoonigan Racing is fielding a detuned, 34mm-restricted Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC for Block this season in the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National championship.
The car comes complete with its 1600cc engine. For a man used to 6700cc (not to mention a brace of blowers bolted either side of the V8), Block knows better than most that his new motor might be lacking in the cubic capacity department.
After finishing a subdued fourth – something to do with breaking his pelvis when a base jump went south a few weeks before – Pastrana told DirtFish of his concerns at Block’s new wheels.
“I don’t know, if there’s anyone in the world that could match his pace with what we have, we have some amazing cars but they’re not WRC cars,” he said. “We’ll see what happens for the rest of the year, but it’s just going to be a struggle for us, but we’re going to keep fighting.”
Block’s view is different.
“As per the ARA’s regulations, we’ve added weight and we have the 34mm restrictor on it,” he countered.
“The biggest thing that hinders me? Displacement – Barry McKenna’s Ford Fiesta WRC is from the same generation of World Rally Cars. But, he’s upped the engine size to two liters! And the Subarus have the same. So, remember the old saying? ‘There’s no replacement for displacement’.
“I love that statement. I love that because it’s true. No matter what you say, the Hyundai’s a great chassis, but when we are 400cc smaller in engine displacement, that’s a lot. It’s 20%! But, you know: it is what it is. I just have to drive harder.
“I think the Hyundai lines up well against the other Open class cars, but for me to go out and outperform Barry with a smaller engine, I think it just shows how comfortable I am with that car and how much I love 100AW.
“The competition in ARA this year is great, with Barry’s Ford, the Subarus and our Hyundai – and, of course, with the R5 category coming stronger as well.”
While Block did win seven stages on 100AW, he was denied victory by an unexpected deer strike on the final stage. So driving harder’s not actually in the plan for this season though, is it?
“Actually, it’s not,” Block said. “This year’s about driving smart. The focus for this year is to drive quick but smart, bring the points home, and hopefully have the most points at the end of the year! I have been in the runner-up position too many times in rally and rallycross, so it’s finally time to try to bring home a title.
“I know there’s more to come from me and from the car. I only tested for 15 miles before the 100AW Rally, so what I need is seat time. I have a test next week and we’re going to work a lot on the setup.”
“Having said that, I love this chassis. The short wheelbase nature of the car felt really similar to the Fiesta WRC I drove, and Fiesta R5 I won Rally Barbados with, and similar to the Škoda I drove last year to second place at 100AW.
“That short wheelbase just works for me. So, the more aggressive I got with the Hyundai race car, the more it worked with my driving style. I like that. But I think there’s more to come.”
I’ve enjoyed doing a lot of different things in my race career, but this season the focus is all about ARAKen Block
Block’s quick to disarm his rivals of the consideration that he’ll deliver his Missouri pace everywhere.
“100AW is my rally. I’ve won it seven times, it’s where I took my first national win. And, don’t forget, when I landed into Salem to start, I’d just come off the back of 1100 miles of driving a Porsche competitively on the East African Safari Classic Rally, I’d done some demonstration driving in the Hoonicorn in Saudi Arabia and been in a bunch of different Audis in Austria. I’d never had so much seat time through the winter. I was ready.”
And is he ready for next week?
“We will be,” he smiled. “We’re taking this year more serious than we ever had. The car, the team, everything we have is a great package to go after the title.
“And the goal is to win the title. I wanted to set myself up for this season the best I could and that started last year, doing some [ARA] events. Alex [Gelsomino, co-driver] and I worked really hard on the notes last year, so that when we came back this year we could set ourselves up to really go for the title. That showed at 100AW – our notes were damned near perfect.”
“I’ve enjoyed doing a lot of different things in my race career, but this season the focus is all about ARA – plus running my wife Lucy and 15-year-old daughter Lia in the same team and championship. Derek [Dauncey, team manager] has done an incredible job to have a great package for us all. Now we need to maximize this great setup and opportunity!”