Now that the hype has settled and the result is in the bag, how do we assess Ken Block’s first outing in a Subaru for 12 years?
To say Block’s pace on the DirtFish Olympus Rally, round three of the 2021 American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National season, was disappointing would be a disservice. But to say it was impressive would also be a touch hyperbolic.
There are reasons for it though.
Yes, Block failed to match the pace of the two identical Subaru Motorsports USA cars of Travis Pastrana and Brandon Semenuk (apart from on SS1 which Block traditionally goes well on) but he was still learning the WRX STI when he blasted off into the woods. And all of the limited testing he had done was in the dry. Olympus was wet.
And furthermore, Olympus Rally was the third rally in succession – following 100AW Rally and Rally Barbados – where Block was driving an all-new car to him in competition.
These caveats explain why when DirtFish caught up with the Head Hoonigan in Charge at the end of the rally, his language was downbeat despite the knowledge that we’re yet to see his full potential.
“It went OK,” he said. “It was definitely a lot slippier than I expected and the car was definitely a bit more difficult to drive in that condition than I was expecting.
“All the testing was in the dry and first driving this chassis in the wet so definitely an experience and something to learn from.”
A major part of that learning process was rooted in the handling characteristics of the Subaru being very different to what Block has driven in competition of late. You don’t have to be an engineer to work that one out when you look at the car’s dimensions compared to a Škoda Fabia or Ford Fiesta that he’s driven recently.
“I went from a couple of cars that were very particular-type chassis, like the R5 into this which is a much longer, much bigger car so it’s just going to take some time that’s all,” Block explained.
The unfortunate thing is, time might already be running out.
While Block missed the Sno*Drift Rally and salvaged second from the 100 Acre Wood event on his one-off drive in a Fabia R5+, his arch rival Pastrana was busy winning. And while Block was bedding himself into the Subaru he will use for the remainder of the year, Pastrana was – you guessed it – winning.
So Block is already 22 points – the equivalent of a win – behind Pastrana after three of eight rounds, and is set to miss an event with the rescheduled Oregon Trail Rally clashing with the East Africa Safari Classic Rally that Block plans to enter in a Tuthill Porsche.
Dropped scores are afforded in the ARA, but it’s one heck of a mountain to climb if Block wants to seal his first ever US rallying title.
As he himself remarks: “I unfortunately don’t have the time or the budget to do big tests for every event and Travis already has three wins, I don’t know if I could do enough testing to battle back and get three wins so it is what it is.
I want to be closer and pushing for wins but it'll comeKen Block
“But I’m here to get through the championship, do as good as I possibly can, hopefully put a good battle in towards the end but it’s going to take a bit to get really confident in the car.”
The encouraging sign from Olympus is Block did win one stage and was just 1.3 seconds shy of another, but he finished over a minute adrift of Pastrana. Block didn’t shy away from the fact he “was hoping to be a little bit quicker”.
“If it was dry I probably could’ve been closer,” he said. “But just wasn’t confident with the car. Hopefully I can get quicker on the next event.
“I don’t know if we’ve made enough changes with the set-up to make me really comfortable but it is what it is.”
Last year Block showed well in a Ford Escort RS Cosworth on what is the next ARA round, Southern Ohio Forests Rally, and the stages on SOFR are high-speed, suiting the grunt and power of his Subaru
But guess who has the same advantage…?
Block was still able to see the bright side though: “I’m pretty stoked with second overall in the points; better than I expected for the bad situation I set myself up for,” he said.
“I want to be closer and pushing for wins but it’ll come.”