How do you judge Ken Block’s return to the American Rally Association National presented by DirtFish season at the weekend?
On the one hand, finishing second on his first outing with a new car – a Škoda Fabia R5+ – and within half a minute of the winner Travis Pastrana was a superb result. But for a man that’s won the 100AW Rally seven times and only ever finished first when he’s finished, second then feels like a disappointment.
Block and Alex Gelsomino’s return was the talk of the town ahead of the rally. The McKenna Motorsports Fabia the two were using only added fueled that hype as it was the first time Block had driven anything other than a Ford rally car competitively since 2009.
Things started sensationally too as Block and Gelsomino won the first stage to lead the rally after two of 14 stages. They’d won on their Rally2 debut in a Ford Fiesta in Barbados a few months earlier: could history repeat itself?
Not quite. Set-up niggles on Friday and then a spate of punctures and a differential problem on Saturday hampered progress and left them unable to fight for every last tenth.
I really love the stages, [it was] great competition and fun racing all these guys but in the end, I'm not happy with secondKen Block
However, three stage wins throughout the rally – against the two potent Subaru WRX STIs and Barry McKenna’s latest-generation Ford Fiesta WRC – proved the speed was very much there.
DirtFish has struggled to assess it, but what was Block’s take on his event?
“This weekend it went good, I won some stages but mechanical issues and punctures kind of kept me from battling for the lead in the end,” was his initial response when we asked.
“But for the first time out in a new car and a new platform I’ve never driven [it] felt pretty good but [it’s] always disappointing to go to a rally that you’ve won seven times and not be able to win it.
“It’s hard to go to an event you love so much in a car that you’ve never really driven,” Block added.
“One hundred miles of testing to try and come out and battle for a win, it’s a tough ask but we put a good push in.
“We were a little quicker than we thought we’d be with so little testing and the car actually did quite good, I think there’s a lot of potential in it, but the cars sitting next to me are really quite quick and the one on the far end, the WRC car really eats up those bumps!
“I really love the stages, [it was] great competition and fun racing all these guys but in the end, I’m not happy with second.”
Block may not have been totally fulfilled by his final finishing position then, but he did at least enjoy the competition with Pastrana, McKenna and Brandon Semenuk.
“It’s fun racing with Travis again,” he said.
“There’s some other great competition out here, Barry and Brandon are great and there’s a ton of R5s which is just so cool to see so it’s rad to come back and see the championship stronger than ever.”
That then begs the obvious question, will we see Block back in the ARA as soon as next month’s DirtFish Olympus Rally? And what will he be driving?
“Not sure yet, we’ll see,” Block responded.
“I have several different offers that we’re working through right now so I’m going to figure all that out soon and we’ll see.”