In case your first actual publicity to Ken Block was his collaboration with Codemasters for Colin McRae Filth 2, launched on PC and seventh-generation consoles means again in 2009, you could not have recognized what to make of him on the time. Pitched as the brand new face of the franchise within the early promotional supplies, Block minimize a drastically completely different determine on display to the late Colin McRae. McRae had a well-known fame as a madman behind the wheel, however outdoors of a rally automotive the Scot at all times appeared calm, pure, and low-key. Perched behind a set of sun shades indoors and flanked by Monster Power fashions, Block actually appeared like a contrasting character; a scorching canine hand grenade set to explode Codemasters’ conventions. Scotland’s South Lanarkshire was making means for the Spring Break swagger of Lengthy Seashore, California, and Block was clearly being positioned as a core a part of Filth 2’s pivot to a significantly extra US-centric, X Video games-inspired tackle rally racing.
In fact, the sideways shift from a strict deal with conventional rallying was a pure transfer on the time. Rallying was constructing steam within the US, and even Colin McRae himself had then-recently been established as a real X Video games star following his well-known duel with excessive sports activities berserker Travis Pastrana in 2006. McRae and Pastrana had dominated the debut of Rally Automobile Racing at X Video games 12, and McRae regarded set to pinch the gold within the ultimate occasion. That’s, till spectacularly rolling his Impreza on the ultimate leap in entrance of a packed stadium, touchdown upright in a cloud of grime, and furiously flooring it over the end line and securing the second-place silver medal. That Codemasters took discover of his exploits here’s a given.
Nonetheless, whereas there’s little question McRae’s tragic passing in 2007 left a gap in rallying, in addition to within the video video games that remember it, you’d have most likely been forgiven for questioning whether or not Ken Block was the best man to fill it.
Nevertheless, there was way more to Ken Block than any of that early manufactured advertising and marketing bluster might need ever instructed.
Tragically, Block handed away at simply 55 in a snowmobile accident earlier this month. The information despatched shockwaves by the worlds of rally, rallycross, excessive sports activities, and even the online game business. In case you’re unfamiliar with him, his story is an interesting one.
Ken Block’s motorsport profession didn’t really start till 2005, in the course of the inaugural season of the Rally America Nationwide Championship. Previous to this, all through the ’90s, Block had been a profitable entrepreneur behind the scenes in board sports activities – from the institution of Blunt Snowboard Journal to the co-founding of DC Sneakers alongside Damon Manner (the brother of professional skater Danny Manner). Through the fast development of DC Sneakers Block had busied himself boosting up excessive sports activities superstars from the worlds of skating, snowboarding, browsing, BMX, and motocross. Many of those athletes stay family names because of such promotion. Nevertheless, after Quiksilver acquired DC Sneakers in 2004, Block pulled off a deeply spectacular twist: he grew to become a worldwide sports activities celebrity himself.
Block’s childhood dream had been to develop into knowledgeable skateboarder or snowboarder, however he additionally beloved rallying. At 37 – an age the place most racing drivers are over 20 years into their careers and quickly approaching retirement – Block was named Rally America’s Rookie of the 12 months. He would go on to be a 16-time occasion winner within the collection, behind solely common collaborator Travis Pastrana (19), and David Higgins (26), who changed Pastrana at Subaru Rally Group USA in 2011.
Block would later make historical past as the primary American to compete and earn factors within the World Rally Championship, and the WRC lately introduced it will be retiring the quantity 43 – the digits displayed on his automobiles all through his profession – as a mark of respect. He additionally had two-dozen begins within the World Rallycross Championship, choosing up a pair of third-place podium finishes. On the world stage Block admittedly wasn’t the quickest within the area, however his exploits in rally would finally be only one a part of what would make him a global auto icon.
Block’s Gymkhana movies are the defining viral automotive video content material, with over a billion views and counting throughout all 10 brief movies within the collection. Block and his staff turned having enjoyable in automobiles into an artfully combined bundle of precision driving, insane jumps, and wild drifting – shot in a dynamic means that nobody else appeared able to matching. He’d principally made a skate video with automobiles, the place the main target was solely on expression fairly than competitors. Few folks have been going to tune in to see Ken Block win Missouri’s Rally within the 100 Acre Wooden, however tens of tens of millions could be immediately hooked on watching him do donuts round a person on a Segway scooter.
The primary, DC Sneakers: Ken Block Gymkhana Observe, arrived in September 2008 and featured Ken Block shredding a decommissioned airbase in a rally-bred Subaru Impreza WRX STi. Whereas modest by his later requirements, the unique Gymkhana video exploded on the web. Gymkhana 2 arrived lower than a yr later, shortly adopted by Block’s first look on Prime Gear, the place then-host James Could referred to him as a “gamestation character who has emerged into the true world.” The remark was most likely extra prescient than Could realised on the time.
Extra adopted, filmed in numerous areas together with Common Studios, France, Dubai, and the streets of San Francisco (which has been watched over 115 million occasions). Sydney, Australia famously missed out on having its very personal Gymkhana video in time for the arrival of Forza Horizon 3; Block and his crew have been compelled to desert filming down below following the involvement of NSW Police and the chance was missed. Now it’s misplaced eternally.
Block expanded on the Gymkhana idea with Climbkhana – a spin-off that noticed him sort out Pikes Peak and resulted in probably the most iconic motorsports pictures captured this century. The sight of Block’s twin-turbo, 1,400-horsepower, methanol-powered Mustang – the Hoonicorn – perilously near the sting of the mountain, spraying gravel into an unpictured abyss, is unforgettable. He riffed on it once more in October final yr with Electrikhana, totally embracing the way forward for quick driving and shredding the Vegas strip in an all-electric, all-wheel-drive Audi S1 nicknamed the Hoonitron.
Codemasters built-in Block’s Gymkhana into 2011’s Filth 3, however whereas Block would later half methods with Codemasters after its follow-up Filth Showdown, his affect and imprint on video video games would proceed. Block would go on to look in Ghost Video games’ 2015 Want for Pace reboot as himself, that includes on the quilt and briefly inside cutscenes. Regardless of the overt dorkiness of Want for Pace 2015’s first-person fist-bumping angle, Block was an in any other case excellent match amongst its forged of auto icons – which included Lamborghini tuner Shinichi Morohoshi and Porsche builder Magnus Walker. For all its faults, Want for Pace 2015 was deeply reverential to automotive tradition and all through the final decade Ken Block has helped outline automotive tradition greater than most.
Block’s well-known fleet of extremely recognisable automobiles – together with the Hoonicorn, the Hoonitruck, and plenty of extra – would later go on to make many appearances within the Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon collection. In case you’ve spent any significant time with Forza Motorsport 7, or Forza Horizon 3, 4, and 5, there’s a really sturdy probability you’ve been behind the wheels of his rides, that are amongst the quickest within the video games. The truth is, Block and Gymkhana inventive director Brian Scotto even put collectively a particular video venture with their Hoonigan Industries crew again in 2020 in response to the recognition of the Hoonicorn in Forza, the place Block drag raced an eclectic number of excessive efficiency automobiles on a real-life airstrip in a collection appropriately dubbed “Hoonicorn vs. the World.” A second collection arrived in 2021 – produced in partnership with cell racing sport CSR2 – and continued the idea, solely with one twist: Ken Block had stepped out of the driving force’s seat for his daughter Lia, who adopted her father into motorsport and was simply 14 on the time of filming.
This was the Ken Block I most admired and, from the tributes that flowed in from his mates, friends, and different excessive sports activities stars following his demise, this was the true Ken Block. Whereas I tremendously revered his creativity and automotive management within the driver’s seat, Block as a barely nervous dad who appeared happier being caught hovering simply off digital camera than on it was extra relatable. His enthusiasm for seeing Lia succeed towards skilled race drivers was merely infectious.
Whereas his most vital legacy will probably be his household, Ken Block additionally leaves behind a everlasting thumbprint on automotive tradition, from his influence on rallying within the US to his success in bringing his unmistakable model of motion driving to mainstream social media. His string of savvy online game collaborations, all of which have helped make his automobiles a few of the most recognisable race automobiles of the trendy period, can even stay as time capsules for his followers to expertise them as Block meant. He will probably be tremendously missed.
Vale Ken Block. #43 eternally.
Luke is Video games Editor at IGN’s Sydney workplace. You may chat to him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.