Ken Block must feel terrible. He flew into Heathrow from the US last night and then drove to the hotel inside Milton Keynes Stadium for a kip, only to discover that there was a football match on.
Early this morning, he’s already in the Silverstone paddock, hoodie up, cap and sunglasses on and can of energy drink in hand.“I think it’s about three in the morning,” he says.
This wouldn’t be a good time to talk to most racing drivers, but Ken Block isn’t most racing drivers. His hood and sunglasses frame a face that beams a broad smile, a silver tooth shining. Even if you’re as tired as hell, if you’re Ken Block, showing us how best to muck about in a drift car producing well over 800bhp is not going to make for a bad day.
How do you know Block? From his Gymkhana videos? Probably. There have been seven of them, each more ambitious than the one before and featuring Block performing extraordinary drifts and slides in increasingly ludicrous cars and landscapes.
More than 27 million people have seen the latest one. In all, these videos have been watched 160 million times, and they’re great value for sponsors like DC Shoes, which Block co-founded.
Gymkhana is like a regular motorsport event in its own right – although without the potential racing pitfalls of crashing, breaking down or not being shown on the telly much. In the same way that Red Bull runs its own air race and soap box events, Gymkhana is not just great to watch but also a great marketing exercise.
To suggest that’s why Block drives cars, though, would be to misunderstand him. Competition is what inspired him and today’s drifting scene “all stems from rallying”, he says, eyes widening as he talks about the reasons why he started driving competitively in the first place – first in Rally America, later in the World Rally Championship and now in Global Rallycross. Colin McRae was a year younger than Block, but McRae’s driving is how Block has ended up where he is today.