Heavy Metal Affliction - Ken Block
Ken Block’s Gymkhana videos have generated hundreds of millions of views. The latest, GYMHKANA NINE: Raw Industrial Playground which was released back in September, featured some obvious nods to Forza Horizon 3. Now that you can drive Block’s #43 Ford Focus RS RX on Blizzard Mountain it’s the perfect time to sit down with this motorsport icon and ask a few questions.
If you are one of the few remaining people on the planet who haven’t seen Block and the RS RX destroy tires amidst the Raw Industrial Playground in the latest film, look no further:
Now let’s get to what Block had to say to HMA.
Heavy Metal Affliction: What was the most difficult trick you performed while filming Gymkhana videos? What made it challenging?
Ken Block: The scene in Gymkhana NINE where I hang my rear wheels directly on the edge of that ledge over the water was definitely the most challenging in recent memory. The last thing I wanted to do was go too far and over into the water and it took me a few attempts to get it out as far as we did for that shot. Definitely a nerve-wracking moment.
HMA: When it comes to designing videos, how involved are you in the production? What parts are you absolutely hands on, aside from driving, and what parts come together around your driving? Do you play a large role in the editing process?
KB: I’m involved from start to finish on these projects. Myself and my Creative Director at Hoonigan, Brian Scotto, concept these out, I usually script them out, and then we execute on set and modify as we go. In terms of the editing process it’s a lot of back and forth in terms of notes and changes. Usually I’ll end up spending a day or two in the editing bay with the director to speed the process up a bit. So yes, you can say I have a large role in these besides just driving!
HMA: Tell us what you do as soon as you get to a Gymkhana site like the Buffalo Train Station?
KB: I do a walk-through with the director, the director of photography, and my team and talk about what we’re going to do, how I’m going to come through and what we should be doing in terms of camera placements.
HMA: How do you come up with shoot location ideas?
KB: Just lots of brainstorming and thinking about situations that would look cool for a car to come through and do Gymkhana maneuvers.
HMA: How long is a shoot for what ends up being an eight minute or so film?
KB: Typically, 4-5 days depending on location changes and the amount of daylight available.
HMA: When you are done shooting are you relieved, bummed, satisfied? How do you feel?
KB: It’s always a great feeling to wrap a shoot, especially when you know you’ve got the shots you need to make a great film.
HMA: How many ideas for a Gymkhana video get left at the table by the end of a shoot? Are these salvageable for later videos? Do you have an archive of unused ideas? What is the greatest thing you haven’t done?
KB: I’ve got plenty of ideas for a lot of other Gymkhana-themed videos, there’s definitely not a shortage. However, I’m not going to share anything more than that, I’ll end up using them all!
HMA: What is the biggest blockade to seeing trick ideas through? The execution? Permitting? Insurance? Coordination?
KB: The biggest blockade is time. I have an extremely busy race season that’s filled with races, other video projects, marketing activations for partners, etc. so to find the right filming windows that work with the logistics of vehicles, production people, and my schedule is very challenging.
HMA: How would you compare the feeling of success from creating a video that gets 15 million views to winning a race event or fighting for a championship?
KB: It’s all different. You can’t really compare the two. They’re obviously very satisfying, but a race win is a lot more sudden and intense in that moment. It happens and it’s over. With the videos, they’re up and they’re always there, always growing. They’re satisfying but can always be revisited easily.
HMA: What do you like most about stage rally? What do you like most about rallycross? What are the key differences between European Rallycross and Global Rallycross?
KB: I love stage rally because it means a lot of driving time for me. I love the challenge of going fast on loose surfaces and being able to throw the car in on a dirt corner. In rallycross I love the door-to-door competition, but it opens you up to being subjected to a lot of luck for things to work out just right. In terms of the two series, World RX is what I race now and it’s night and day compared to GRC. The tracks are more established and most are permanent and only designed for rallycross. It’s also a higher level of competition and the field of talent is a bit deeper since there’s just more people competing. Overall it's a tougher challenge as a driver and as a team owner.
HMA: Top Forza drivers like Don Joewon Song have emulated Gymkhana driving in Forza games. Have you seen some of these? What do you think of video game Gymkhana?
KB: I think it’s great that people want to emulate what us drivers do and that they can do it in a video game versus the real world—mostly because it’s a lot more affordable in a video game! Video game Gymkhana is great, but I’m fortunate enough that I can do it in real life so I’m going to keep doing that for the time being.
HMA: You were at the Petersen Museum launch event for Forza Horizon 3. Had you been to the museum before? What is your favorite part of the museum?
KB: I’m a fan of the Petersen, I’ve been prior to the Forza event and I’ve always enjoyed my time there. The depth of the collection is immense and the way they present the cars is just very well done. My current favorite part is the fact that my Gymkhana THREE Ford Fiesta is on display there.
HMA: How did it come about that one of your race cars was exhibited at the Petersen?
KB: They reached out to my team about having a car on display and I happened to have one that worked in terms of being available. Really just good timing and luck on both parties.
HMA: What kind of cars do you like to drive in Forza games?
KB: I think the correct answer here is my Ford Focus RS RX rallycross car that just dropped.
HMA: You helped create the Ford Focus RS. What were your chief contributions that made it in to production? Do you own a “stock” Focus RS?
KB: My chief contribution was campaigning with Ford to have all wheel-drive as a part of the idea with the car. I spent multiple years telling Ford they needed to make the next RS all-wheel drive and it finally paid off. And yes, I have a blue one at home as we speak that I use as a daily when I’m not driving my Ford Raptor.
HMA: How do you think the RS RX would do in the snow?
KB: I think it’d do great so long as we put it on proper studded rally tires. I actually think it’d be a LOT of fun.
HMA: You live in Utah, so driving in snow is a familiar thing. Is this something you enjoy? Do you have to restrict yourself from hooning when you are just headed to the store to pick up some groceries?
KB: I get out all of my driving shenanigans in a closed environment on a racetrack these days. But I really do enjoy driving on snow and have been known to enjoy an empty, snow-covered parking lot in my day.
HMA: Talk to me about car control? Is this a gift that you either have or don’t have? How have you focused on mastering car control?
KB: Car control can come with time and practice, but some people just have a gift for it right out of the box. I think it’s easier if you have a knack for it right away, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be something that is learned. I’ve focused by practice, practice, and practice. I also happened to have some skill with it when I first got started in racing, which is what encouraged me to further pursue a racing career and end up where I am today.
So there you have it Forza fans. Now that you are now filled with insight from one of the biggest names in motorsport, it’s probably a good time to go destroy some Rivals times in Block’s Focus RS RX. Then, be sure to watch the next Tuesday stream on Twitch and Beam starting at 1 p.m. Pacific for your chance to win a Ken Block Forza Horizon 3 poster featuring this awesome shot from GYMKHANA NINE.
Photo credits to Hoonigan and Larry Chen for all Gymkhana 9 photos. Photo credit to johniwanna for the Petersen Museum photo.