How hard is to be Ken Block?
Anyone with internet access and a love for extreme sports will have seen Ken Block’s Gymkhana videos. If you haven’t seen it and you fall under this umbrella, then you should probably take a few minutes to go and check it out. If you can’t be arsed to look then I’ll explain it pretty simply: he drives a rally car pretty fast around some obstacles and makes it look generally badass.
It looks pretty impressive but how hard is it really? Can any Tom, Dick or Harry get in a rally car and pull off some moves that look good enough to be an internet sensation? Well to find out I sweet-talked the people at Skoda into teaching me a few things and for some choice words from their ‘ace-up-the-sleeve’ driver and IRC World Champ, Andreas Mikkelsen.
Who is Andreas Mikkelsen though? Does he have the knowledge and skill to get me on the path to being the next Ken Block? If you haven’t Googled his name then you’ll need to know that he’s 23, drives for Skoda in the IRC (International Rally Championship), is going to be driving for VW Motorsports in the WRC (World Rally Championship), was the youngest driver ever to score points in the IRC and is pretty handy with a rally car. With a background of giant slalom and motocross, he’s no stranger to speed.
These are all pretty good accolades but what can I learn from him? I thought having a chat with him first might help. I might be able to get an insight into the mind of a rally driver and see if I’ve got the balls to do it.
What does the average season hold?
First of all the rally season is really wrong. It runs from January to late November so there’s only 1 month off. Not much off-season! But for me now I have a full programme in the IRC championship and also a full programme in the WRC. It’s busy but really nice!
Ok, by this point I’m thinking, ‘Yeh, I could do this. Bit of hard work sure but it’s doable!’
Do you know Ken Block? Are you for or against it? Do you think he’s a bit of a showboat?
No, no, I think it’s fantastic what he does for the rally sport. He creates huge interest.
He tried the WRC right...?
He still rallies!
I heard he was more of an amateur.
First of all he is a good driver. He’s not on the same pace as Sebastian Loeb or the top guys in the WRC, but he has done something special with his videos, which actually a lot of people can do [the WRC drivers]. They are equally as good as him and they can do this, but no one has had the thought to create extreme rally car racing and no one else has thought to do that so….
Is it something you’d be interested in?
Yeah, why not! It looks like a lot of fun! He made something out of those videos that has never been done before. He was the first one!
So it’s not the worst start. Turns out that a lot of rally drivers can do the things that Ken Block does, which still brings me back to my earlier question – Do I have what it takes to be a rally driver? With this in mind my plucky photographer for the day, Tristan Kennedy (Whitelines Deputy Ed) & I slipped Andreas a tenner and got him to take me out in his rally car so I could see what his driving was like, and if he could benefit from the knowledge of my extra years on this earth. Turns out, he left me speechless. He threw me from side to side, drifted around corners, made me think we would hit a lot of things and used our friend G-Force to push my internal organs into positions they never thought they would be in.
First lesson learnt: speed is nothing to be afraid of and driving really fucking fast makes anything look good!
After soiling the overalls they’d lent me to sit in the car with and a quick change of clothing (his driving was pretty nuts), I decided to lift my spirits and aspirations by being taught the manoeuvres that will see me perform the next gymkhana video. Not all of the moves but some of them... namely the handbrake turn, the J turn (180 to you and me) and generally driving like a lunatic.
So off I went in a Skoda Octavia with an instructor who clearly has no regard for his own life to learn these moves. The handbrake turn was up first and the quick answer was, I’m crap at it. After burning through 46 tyres and inhaling a lifetime’s worth of rubber, it was time to move on to the J turn. Now this I wasn’t too bad at.
The idea is that you reverse really fast, swing the car around then drive off into the sunset. Once perfected you’ll be victorious in any car chase and have thousands of women draped over you. The end result wasn’t quite like that but it wasn’t too far off… kind of. Ok, maybe a lot but still. Take a look at my attempt.
So with all of these skills under my belt, am I any closer in becoming the next Ken Block? The answer is no. Simply no. Not a chance. After a full 2 hours of practice I already know that it takes some balls to do what Ken Block does. I might just leave the driving to him and Andreas Mikkelsen.
Special thanks to the people at Skoda for letting me steal Andreas for a couple of hours! For more info about Andreas head to his site here.
I also have to point out that as good as it looks in that video, the handbrake turn and the J turn were me, but the rest of it might have involved some camera trickery.
Photos: Tristan Kennedy