Long-lasting driver/manufacturer relationships in modern-day motorsport are something of a rarity, but Ken Block and Ford managed to keep it together for more than 10 years.
In that time Block competed in numerous championships and events all over the world, driving all kinds of different Blue Oval-badged machinery, and created unrivalled content seen by millions all over the world.
But on Friday it was announced that the marriage – one that was seemingly made in heaven – was over. “We’ve decided to see other people”, Block said in a video announcement. Both sides may work together in the future, but that long-lasting period of exclusivity is now done.
With over a decade together, there were many high points – and low points – and DirtFish has picked out some of the defining moments from the Block/Ford partnership.
Top-level WRC debut
While Block had started three World Rally Championship rounds prior to Rally México in 2010, the Central American adventure was the start of something special. Why? Instead of piloting a Group N machine, Block was strapped into a Ford Focus RS WRC 08 for the first time and committed to a seven-round program in it.
It was the start of a three-year adventure for the American superstar who would be entered into nine rounds in Ford’s Fiesta WRC in 2011 and a further three rallies in 2012.
México was a regular fixture of Block’s schedule, and he immediately impressed on his top-class WRC debut with the ninth-fastest time on his first stage.
Sadly he would hit problems on SS10 when the suspension on his Focus broke, but he would recover to finish 18th overall. “I still have a lot to learn with the WRC, I’m just getting started,” he said at the time.
Gymkhana goes international
After becoming an internet sensation with his ‘Gymkhana Practice’ viral video and its even more impressive follow-up, Ford was front and center for Gymkhana 3. It was filmed at Montlhéry in France, making it the first in the series to take place outside the US.
Gymkhana 3 was also the first in the series to feature a purpose-built competition machine. After using road car-based Subarus in the first two installments, this utilized a 600bhp Fiesta rallycross car built by Olsbergs MSE in Sweden.
The end result was a template used by every Gymkhana film until the 10th – crazy locations, even crazier cars, and Ford right there to provide the ride.
Points on the board
On his sixth world championship rally with the Focus RS WRC, Block really strung it together to claim his first ever WRC points on the mixed-surface Rally Spain in 2010.
It had been coming on previous events. Posting several top-six stage times on Rally Turkey showed great promise, only for a crash in Portugal to peg back Block’s progress.
Alternator trouble in Germany – when Block had been up to ninth – was difficult to take for him and co-driver Alex Gelsomino too.
However it would all finally come good in Spain where, aside from a poor time on SS8 that momentarily dropped him to 11th, the American’s Ford was never outside of the top 10 overall and was rewarded with a ninth place finish ahead of Sébastien Ogier.
The two points scored that weekend would be the first of 18 he’d earn over his WRC career.
His last appearance in the world championship was at México in 2020, driving his own modified Ford Escort RS Cosworth rather than a modern-day World Rally Car.
Block’s WRC program gradually reduced that by 2013, he and Alex Gelsomino only started one round in a Fiesta WRC. It proved to be a worthwhile venture though, as they scored a career-best seventh on their fifth attempt at Rally México.
It was a typically consistent Block performance. After the first two spectator-friendly stages he was in 12th, but was soon up to seventh and in a close fight with local star Benito Guerra’s Citroën DS3 WRC.
Going seventh fastest on the famous El Chocolate test further cemented his overall position and by the end of the first full day he was over a minute clear of Guerra.
Block was promoted to sixth when second-placed Mads Østberg slipped down the order with suspension trouble, but would eventually lose out to Chris Atkinson who wrestled the spot from Block’s grasp three stages from home.
It mattered little, as this was Block’s most complete WRC performance and remains his highest ever finish to this day.
Winless rallycross streak snapped
Block had been competing in the emerging Global Rallycross series since the end of its first season in 2011, but it wasn’t until 2013 that he’d stroll into victory lane – a win that came at the end of a torrid season where he’d been involved in drama in multiple finals across the year.
Racing in the Las Vegas season finale, Block started the final on an all-Ford front row alongside future champion Scott Speed, that year’s champion Toomas Heikkinen, and two-time champ Tanner Foust.
It wasn’t the best start for Block, who was squeezed by Speed and Heikkinen going into the first corner, but after further contact with Speed he emerged ahead of both on the exit of turn two, and began to hunt down the fast-starting Foust for the race lead.
Block kept Foust honest for the first two laps of the 10-lap contest, but on lap three word came through that Foust had jumped the start.
That meant a stop-go penalty for the double champion, and the race lead handed on a plate to Block.
Thanks to a destruction-filled opening lap for the rest of the field, Block had a huge lead when he assumed first place. What followed was a mature and measured drive to bring home his first-ever rallycross win.
The Hoonicorn turns heads
In 2014 Block and Ford’s partnership was elevated to the extreme. Up to that point, Block had made great use of rally and rallycross Focuses and Fiestas for his competition and ‘extra curricular’ activities, but how was he going to stay ahead of the curve?
Enter: The Hoonicorn. Unveiled at that year’s SEMA show, the Hoonicorn was unlike anything Block had driven before, and was to show how the partnership would continue to evolve going forward.
Of course, this wasn’t built for rallying or rallycross – that would be ridiculous. Instead this was for the Gymkhana antics that had made him a household name.
Developed in partnership with Vaughn Gittin Jr’s RTR tuning brand, the Hoonicorn featured a NASCAR-derived V8 engine that delivered 845bhp to all four wheels. The body, originally from a 1965 Mustang, was modified with inspiration from Block’s WRC cars, DTM machinery and toy cars.
The Hoonicorn was later modified with a twin-turbo, giving it 1400bhp, while it later spawned a sibling in the form of the Hoonitruck. Similar idea, different approach. This time a 1977 Ford F-150 pickup provided the bodywork, while the oily bits under the skin came from a Ford GT GTE Le Mans racer. Other wild one-offs include Block’s custom Mk2 Escort and his 1990s rally-inspired Escort ‘Cossie’.
Another bonkers creation, the Hoonifox, was teased last year, although given recent developments, it’s unlikely to ever see the light of day.
Breakthrough rallycross season
After finally getting one in the win column at the end of 2013, and adding two more victories to that a year later, 2015 was something of a breakthrough year for Block in GRC.
Driving M-Sport’s Fiesta ST, which until ‘15 had been exclusively used by him, Block began the year with a dominant win on the streets of Fort Lauderdale. Back-to-back wins at MCAS New River and the first Detroit round, both at the expense of the ever-unlucky Patrik Sandell, followed. Those victories put Block equal (at the time) with Foust on GRC’s all-time wins list with six.
At the halfway point in the year Block had only been off the podium twice, and was right in the title hunt.
However, despite scoring as many wins in the season as he had in his entire career prior, he would only finish on the podium once in the second half of 2015. That championship run-in also included a roll in Barbados – his second there is as many years – and his title challenge fell apart.
A final position of seventh in the standings certainly wasn’t a reflection of the full campaign though, which was arguably the strongest of Block’s rallycross career.
Moving to World Rallycross with Ford
After proving himself to be a solid contender in the US (and Europe, where he won on his European Rallycross debut and made the podium on his World RX bow in 2014), Block and Ford formed a closer partnership to take on the World Rallycross Championship from 2016.
He drove new car based on the Focus RS. co-developed by Ford Performance in the US and top WRC squad M-Sport, and run at the track by Block’s own Hoonigan Racing Division team.
As the history books will show, the Hoonigan-Ford foray into World RX didn’t quite return the kind of results expected, but it showed that Block was a serious player in international motorsport. After plying his trade at home in a privately built – and entered – car, he was now a full-on works driver in an FIA world championship.
Strong start to life in World RX
A high point of Block’s time in World RX came early in his first full season there. After a partial campaign in 2014 had yielded a third place in Norway, he added to his trophy collection at round two of the 2016 season at Hockenheim.
While that event may well be remembered for what happened in the semi-finals – a race we dubbed the best World RX race ever – the final was equally as entertaining.
Starting from the back row of the grid, Block began to climb up the order as early as the first corner rounding the outside of Petter Solberg and Liam Doran. While the move proved unsuccessful, he repeated it in turn two, getting by Solberg and then ticking off Doran moments later in the dirt.
From there he settled in behind the Audi duo of Mattias Ekström and former GRC rival Toomas Heikkinen. Solberg tried to hunt Block down for the final podium spot, after survived hefty contact further which resulted in a spectacular roll for Robin Larsson, but his charge came to nothing.
It was the second race for a new operation and a complex new car. It could’ve, and should’ve, been a sign of more to come, but Block made only one more final over his two seasons, while team-mate Andreas Bakkerud notched up three wins in 2016 but couldn’t mount a proper title challenge for the duration of the program.
Final win with Ford?
On what could prove to be Block’s final competitive appearance in a Ford, Block headed to the tropical island of Barbados last year safe in the knowledge that the country had never been kind to him in the past; rolling twice on his previous two visits in rallycross.
It very much proved to be third time lucky though, as he snuck into first place on the penultimate of Rally Barbados’s 19 stages to take a widely unexpected victory on his first – and potentially only – outing in a Ford Fiesta Rally2.
Up against World Rally Cars pedalled by serious drivers with lots of Barbados experience, Block settled into an early rhythm and was soon setting top-three stage times to jump up to third overall overnight behind Rob Swann and Jeffrey Panton’s Fiesta WRCs.
A mistake from Swann the following morning promoted Block to second and he kept pace with Panton’s more powerful machine so was perfectly positioned to strike should his Jamiacan rival run into trouble. Fortunately for Block that’s exactly what happened. An axle broke on Panton’s Fiesta and Block wouldn’t miss the open goal, claiming a narrow 9.5-second victory over Swann on his very first Rally Barbados start.