Ken Block is back! The American superstar hasn’t been seen on the US rally stages since last July’s Southern Ohio Forest Rally, but the Head Hoonigan in Charge has entered this weekend’s 100 Acre Wood Rally – a rally he won an astonishing seven times in nine attempts.
There can be no denying that Block’s presence in the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National field adds that extra bit of color and flavor to an already tantalizing battle. His weapon of choice – a Škoda Fabia R5+ – only adds to that hype.
We asked our team of writers for their immediate reaction to this massive news and what it means for Block, his rivals and most importantly, American rallying.
It’s a win-win to have a born entertainer and natural talent back
– David Evans
I’ve seen it all around the world. It never changes. The fizz of excitement that follows Ken Block to the planet’s four corners.
From a North Island field alongside the Brooks stage, near Paparoa, New Zealand to the dizzying height of Ortega, México via a few Finns outside a yellow house in Ouninpohja and the El Cóndor Argentinian hardcore who’ve been camping and partying for a working week before the cars come by.
I’ve been asked the same question in more languages than I can remember. It’s a one-word question that follows a handful of the world’s finest drivers passing with no hint of Monster Energy.
Then the Escort, the Fiesta, whatever KB’s pedalling arrives in view and the world’s all good again. The legendary Guanajuato superspecial on the eve of Rally México proper last year was a case in point. Admittedly, the whole town is painted black and green in deference to Monster Energy backing, but the noise when Block and Alex Gelsomino parked up on the start ramp was insane.
Put Block in a car and he’s an artist, a born entertainer. But above all, he’s a very talented driver. If I could hope for one thing this week, it’s that he gets a fair shot; the opportunity to give the ball a good kick. Admittedly, he’s been away from rallying’s coalface for a while now, but there’s another 100 Acre Wood win in this fella. No doubt.
And regardless of the result, it’s a win-win to have a genuinely global character and all-around-the-world good guy back in our sport.
Block can win in any car he drives
– Mason Runkel
Many rumors started to fly when it was announced Block was no longer Ford exclusive. Would he hop back in a Subaru? Work with Hyundai maybe? Perhaps break out some crazy one-off build?
The rumor that didn’t start, however, was that Block’s first non-Ford ride would be Barry McKenna’s Škoda Fabia R5+. But I couldn’t be more excited.
If you’re unfamiliar with the car, it debuted during Rally México last year and subsequently ran its first US event at Southern Ohio Forest Rally a few months later where it narrowly beat out Block and his Escort Cosworth for the win – despite hitting a rock and ripping a wheel off just before the end of the final stage.
Since then McKenna used the car to take second at the Ojibwe Forests Rally (despite rolling in testing), and first at Olympus, proving to be just as fast, if not faster than Pastrana and Semenuk’s Imprezas on any terrain.
It’s no secret that Block can easily get in any car and be competitive. Though he has been spending most of his rallying time in Rally1 cars and his famous Escorts, his most recent showing at Rally Barbados last year saw him in a Ford Fiesta Rally2, which he was able to drive to the overall win.
The Škoda might not scream “Ken Block” at a glance, but worry not – Block will surely give it one of its hardest workouts yet.
Pastrana, Semenuk and McKenna should be scared
– Dominik Wilde
Seeing Ken Block’s name on the 100 Acre Wood Rally entry list, you know there’s another contender in the mix as he’s immediately going to be competing at the sharp end. In nine starts he’s never failed to win when he’s finished – mechanical issues keeping him from achieving a result in both 2013 and 2019.
So Block the driver is a solid threat. That’s a given. But in recent years he’s almost exclusively competed in ageing Ford Escort Cosworths – firstly the ex-WRC machine which met a fiery end in New England in 2019, then later his own “Cossie V2” creation. Competent machines, sure, but not exactly on par with the might of the factory Subarus or the modified R5s and turbocharged S2000 cars that Barry McKenna’s been running.
Now Block’s back in a contemporary machine – a Škoda Fabia, the same sort of car that McKenna ran on three ARA rounds on his way to the title last year.
Unlike McKenna and Subaru’s Travis Pastrana and Brandon Semenuk, it’s unclear if Block is running a full campaign but that in itself is an advantage. He has no pressure, a solid platform underneath him, and he’s in a very happy hunting ground.
His only downside (if there even is one) is that after over a decade running various Fords, the Škoda is an unfamiliar machine, but that’s likely to be a moot point. Pastrana, Semenuk, and McKenna should all be running scared. Very scared.
A real chance for the R5 formula to prove itself in the US
– Luke Barry
When I first saw the images of the classic Monster Energy livery on the Škoda, I’ll be honest, it looked wrong. Block not in a Ford or even a Subaru takes some getting used to. But having said that, when I heard that Block would be hurling the Fabia through the Missouri forests, I knew it was the right fit.
It’s the right fit for Block (as after all his winning to starts ratio in this class of car is 1:1) and it’s the right fit for the ARA as a whole too.
R5 cars have been a cornerstone of several continental championships around the world for years now, but they haven’t necessarily been common on the American stages due to the greater freedom in the regulations. Indeed, the Škoda Block will drive this weekend will run to R5+ spec rather than pure R5 with more horsepower and better aero.
There have been more and more R5 cars making their way over to the US however, but the chance to see one driven by another proven winner – as well as McKenna – could really show what the cars can do up against the Subaru Motorsports USA machines.
The battle between Block and Subaru’s Pastrana is one to relish too as it’s been a deceptively long time since the pair squared off on a rally in very equal machinery. And don’t forget, Block will be co-driven by Alex Gelsomino and Pastrana by Rhianon Gelsomino so there’s a marital battle on the other side of the car too!
Quite who will come out on top is a question I’m not confident enough to answer, but there can be no denying that Block’s entry has added a fascinating twist to the front-end battle.