Ever wonder what it would be like to strap up and ride along with viral video legend Ken Block in his Hoonigan Racing 2013 Ford Fiesta ST rallycross car? Here is your inside look to just that with vehicle breakdown, driver interview and onboard footage of the 2013 ESPN X Games Gymkhana GRID course at Irwindale Speedway, CA.
Gymkhana GRID is the newest four-wheel timed-motorsport series to hit the Summer X Games. It places drivers, many of which also compete in the Global RallyCross series, on a plot of asphalt lined with cones, barrels and crates that are designed to test car control, drift ability and speed. 180-turns, 360-slides, drifting through tight quarters and figure-eights are all part of the game in a course that at Irwindale takes around a minute to run through (in practice). Also notable, the gearbox and engine cannot talk to one another for data acquisition and there is no speed-reading to even the field.
The ride along was a smoky and eye-opening experience to the razor-sharp car control and focus of Ken Block—a talent each driver competing in this series has. The unbelievably precise handling (not to mention rapid acceleration) of the 2013 Ford Fiesta ST rally car made transitions from left to right smooth to a point where I found my mind wandering off to the audio bliss of the backfiring exhaust, the sight of Block’s pedal/shifter skill and the numerous fire barrels missed by mere inches during a slide.
We then sat down with the Hoonigan Racing team to find out what makes this Fiesta ST tick and also what drives the high-profile but very approachable, Ken Block.
Model: 2013 Ford Fiesta ST (Gymkhana and GRC)
Power: 600hp, 650 lb-ft of torque
Weight: 2,866 lbs. (with driver)
Engine: 2-liter turbocharged EcoBoost, direct port injection, transverse
Transmission: AWD, 50/50 front and rear wheel split with center release differential pack that releases drive to rear when handbrake activated
Brakes: Brembo four-piston calipers with cast iron rotors (365mm front)
Stuart Collins, Hoonigan Racing technician, took a minute to sit down and tell us about the two Fiesta ST team cars pitted at X Games Irwindale this year. Here is what he said:
“In the garage, we have one car for Gymkhana, X Games and Global RallyCross (GRC) and one for rally events. Both are virtually the same shell and setup but with the GRC car we are running a 45mm restrictor on the turbo and for the rally car we run a 34mm restrictor. The actual World Rally Championship Ford Fiesta is very similar to these apart from changes made to incorporate the turbo, specific airflow and exhaust.
It was built by M-Sport in the UK, which runs the WRC cars. Most of the panels are composite (rear quarters, fenders, hood); almost everything is either carbon-Kevlar or fiberglass. The only things steel are the doors and the roof. GRC requires every car to weigh at least 2,866 lbs. with the driver. We run it just over weight with Ken being about 200 lbs.
The motor is a stock Ford EcoBoost 1.8-liter that has been bored and stroked. None of the internals are Ford; they are all pre-manufactured. The actual engine is made in France by Pipo Moteurs and the ZF transmission is French as well (Xtrac is used for WRC Fiesta).
The brakes are all Brembo four-piston with cast iron rotors. The chassis components are all similar to the WRC car but modified and tweaked for the GRC and X Games events.
For GRC, the near identical rally car next door uses longer suspension travel and smaller rotors for the gravel and the dirt. Suspension-wise, the dampers and shock absorbers are virtually the same. Tarmac events like Gymkhana GRID though call for suspension with less travel and a little bit stiffer settings. We run 26.1psi front and rear for tire pressure.
With the rally car, you have the radiator and intercooler in the front. With the rallycross car, you have the radiator in the back and the intercooler up front because there is so much damage going on in the first corner of this race. This also minimizes the threat of dirt clogging the radiator when following another car. Every car in the paddock runs water spray just to cool everything down. It runs through jets straight onto the intercooler and radiator - without that you’d just cook the engine.”
Born and raised in Southern California but now residing with his family in the mountains of Park City, Utah, Ken Block has an obvious passion for rally. We picked his brain on the subject.
How’d you get your start?
“Since I was a little kid I liked rally, I grew up watching it. I had no interest in American motorsports. It was rally and Formula 1. When I was 16 and got my hands on my parent’s keys [Toyota Corolla or Ford truck] I mimicked that kind of driving style down twisty roads. You know I would try to jump their car(s), do donuts, hit those sorts of driving lines and slide because that was just my interest.”
When did you get official?
“I started late in life, in my late 30s. I didn’t really realize there was a rally championship here in the states until 2004 when Travis Pastrana had a deal to race a couple of rallies. I always thought it was a European only thing but that woke me up. In 2005, I started racing and did fairly well, getting fourth overall in the Rally America National Championship. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
How much seat time are you getting this year?
“Seat time is pretty wild this year because I have 20 to 25 events depending on how you look at it (competitions and demos). It’s a lot of seat time but a lot of travel too so I don’t get to see my home very much.”
How’d you get involved with Gymkhana?
“I started doing Gymkhana events years ago just for fun and to get more seat time because racing rally is so expensive. There was a small series that a guy was doing here in Southern California so I built a car for it but as soon I finished building the car he finished doing his events. So I was like, “Shit, I have this great car but nothing to do with it now,’ so that was the whole impetus to doing the first Gymkhana video.”
Explain the first Gymkhana video.
“El Toro airfield, in Orange County, CA is where I did my first Gymkhana event. We went and scouted it one day and ended up making the video while doing some practice and testing there. I had no idea it would get the response that it got. That video got like 10 million views in just a couple of months and I was really blown away. So we just kept making them from there.”
“Actually working on two new ones. My problem is that Gymkhana 5 was just so good that it’s going to be hard to ever beat that. The San Francisco video was like a dream come true. We were able to do way more than I ever imagined including stuff like the bridge and the barge scenes that was just offered to us. I didn’t think it’d even be possible to shut down the bridge.
The city of San Francisco was so receptive and films so many movies, TV shows and commercials that they are used to dealing with that. It was more expensive to film the Universal Studios' vid. During that one, the ground had to be cleaned every day to remove marks. Filming internationally can cost even more. It only takes about four days to film these videos but travel, shipping and time costs out of the country is high. For instance, Gymkhana 3 was in France and it was just real difficult. We had a bit of tire issue because the tire supply there is a little bit different from here and it cost a lot more money.”
“I like to compete. I like making the videos, it’s fun, but at the end of the day I’d like to have events where I can compete doing this stuff.
Where did Gymkhana GRID start?
Someone I knew was actually interested in doing a Gymkhana series so we partnered to do the first GRID here at Irwindale in 2010. It went well but unfortunately that guy’s business suaveness wasn’t there so he struggled to pay back some bills afterwards. Since then I’ve kept the Gymkhana name, actually DC Shoes trademarked the name, and I own all of that.
“Well, what I’d like to see is more of these upper end events like X Games but also a grassroots series. So we’re moving toward that. For right now, we’re really focused on just getting this one event done as best we can. We have a seven or eight event series in Europe with Monster Energy but we don’t really have anything in the states but this one X Games event.
How does European racing compare?
“The WRC has been around for so long that it is very organized with very high-level drivers. It has some of the best events in the world. It’s amazing to compete with those guys; I absolutely love it. The travel for me is just real difficult. The culture breeds it there. We don’t have the same events. If you go to Finland, rally is the main motorsport along with Formula 1. American motorsports are just so much more centered around NASCAR and drag racing that we just don’t have a huge field of drivers who race at that level.”
How have you done in Europe?
“Highest place I’ve gotten was seventh overall as a finish and fourth overall for a best stage time. And I’m trying, I’m driving at my highest level but that is just how gnarly those types of guys are. They’re just in the car more and have so much more experience than I do and where I came from.”
Why is X Games GRC at Irwindale instead of downtown LA this year?
“It’s interesting working with X Games. We want certain things and they only have budget for certain things. They lost the roads downtown for this year because I think the city just wasn’t working with them as well as in the past. It worked out well for us though because at Irwindale we have a better track with the ability to put down more dirt and have a more controlled environment. They asked me to do Gymkhana GRID a while ago and I requested a big open space but they could never do it. All they had were the roads so this year it will be real good.”
Who are you gunning to beat?
“It’s really fun for me because I’ve known guys like Tanner, Pastrana, Mirra and Lasek for awhile. These are friends of mine so it’s cool to come to these events and have a good time racing. But at the end of the day we all want to win.”
The 2013 X Games Gymkhana GRID competition takes place Saturday night (August 3rd). Viewers can catch it on ESPN and WatchESPN at 10:30pm EST.