It was a pretty regular Friday afternoon on the Bulevar Paseo de los Niños, just off the main drag in and out of León. Pretty regular, that was, with the exception of the World Rally Championship’s arrival in town.
Hidden around the back of the 2011 Rally México service park, not many folk knew the sport’s superstars would be rocking up and resting on this particular boulevard. Having emerged from the El Cubilete stage, rally leader Sébastien Ogier made his way towards the superspecial through the streets of León. Just the 0.76-mile asphalt crowd-pleaser stood between the crews and service.
Slightly off the beaten track and into the back streets, the local population hadn’t really expected this rally car cavalcade. Pulling up at the control, Ogier carefully selected a parking slot beneath a tree. Out of the car, he sat beneath the tree, pulled his cap lower over his eyes and looked like a man ready for a quick siesta.
Unfortunately for him, the noise of a DS3 WRC sauntering through the streets had piqued the interest of some. Children stopped kicking balls against the walls and led their folks and families in the direction of the noise. Heels were picked up when the sister car of Sébastien Loeb followed, with Mikko Hirvonen’s Ford Fiesta RS WRC hard on its heels.
The crews were all grateful to disembark, stretch legs and seek shade as the Mexican sunshine did its thing and scorched down to turn the March heat up.
Standing and staring, it didn’t take long before the request for pictures kicked in. The drivers were fairly relaxed and stayed seated, beckoning children to their level for the snap.
It was around that time that a black Fiesta turned the corner and pulled up a few cars back down the street.
Competing in México for the third time, I was interested to hear Block’s take on his first morning and ventured towards the Monster-capped American. He and co-driver Alex Gelsomino were still looking around the car after their 10th fastest time on the previous stage and hadn’t made it to the shade of the trees. The pair of them leaned against the side of the M-Sport car and chatted about their morning.
“Block,” shouted one child. “Block!”
By now, a crowd of a good couple of hundred had gathered in the street, but most of them were still fixated on the first cars to arrive. The KB Fiesta had gone almost unnoticed. Until now.
Grown men grabbed their children, ditched their wives and ran in the direction of the #43 Ford. It was, to say the least, slightly unnerving. I was surrounded in an instant and, wasted no time in bailing.
“Mister, mister, can I have cap?”
When that drew a Block blank, a change of tack was taken.
Now completely surrounded, by a crowd at least 10-deep, Ken tried to retreat inside the car.
“I can’t open the door,” he shouted in my direction.
Unable to offer any assistance, I retreated further.
Now pinned firmly against the side of the Fiesta, Block made his escape, forced his way forward, jumped onto the hood and sat on the roof of the car.
It was a quite astonishing demonstration of the Gymkhana star’s popularity in North America.
Once the cars ahead of him started to check in to the control and the morning’s final stage, he was able to consider dismounting, but it required the assistance of the local constabulary to finally disperse the crowd around the car sufficiently for him to clamber aboard again.
His result on that rally? I don’t remember. The scenes in Bulevar Paseo de los Niños, I’ll never forget.
Block finished the event 12th, suffering final-day technical issues which cost him a place in the top 10.