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The Petrolhead Corner

A Tribute To Ken Block, The Sideways YouTube Sensation

The automotive community is in mourning after the shocking passing of a genuine petrolhead.

calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Robin Nooy | ic_query_builder_black_24px 5 min read |

It’s not often we commemorate fallen icons from the automotive industry, but in this case, we felt we had to. Upon learning about the passing of YouTube sensation and all-out car guy Ken Block after a horrific snowmobile accident, the automotive community is in shock. He rose to fame through a series of YouTube videos called ‘Gymkhana’, where he made very powerful cars go very sideways, doing crazy stunts in the process. Before, during and after his breakout video in 2008, Ken Block competed in rally and rallycross championships around the world. And just like the man himself, some of the cars he thrashed around have become equally famous. Through all his crazy antics, he has made a lasting impact on the car community unlike any other in recent history. Millions will miss him, and his legacy will surely live on thanks to his Hoonigans.

The rise and rise of Ken Block

Before becoming a huge YouTube star, Ken Block made his fortune through DC Shoes, a shoe company specialising in footwear for action sports like skateboarding. He founded DC Shoes in 1994, along with Damon Way and Clayton Blehm before selling the company to surfwear and boardsports label Quicksilver in 2004. During his time with DC Shoes, he was already competing in action sports events like skateboarding, snowboarding and motocross. Following the sale of the company, he shifted his focus towards the automotive community and launched the apparel company Hoonigan Industries (hoonigan is Ozzie slang for a reckless driver, which would come into play shortly after).

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His love for cars and the opportunities he created for himself with his business ventures made it possible for Ken Block to start a professional racing and rally career. He started in an official competition in 2005 when he entered the Sno*Drift rally racing event in a 2005 Subaru WRX STI. Throughout his career, which lasted until 2014, he competed in Rally America, FIA World Rallycross Championship, Rally America, the FIA World Rally Championship and more. At roughly the same time, he started creating his Gymkhana video series which launched his name into the stratosphere (but more on that later). His stardom also saw him appear on various car-related platforms, TV programmes and YouTube channels such as Top Gear, Chris Harris on Cars and Jay Leno’s Garage.

The Hoonigan empire grew into a worldwide phenomenon over time, so much so that it allowed Ken to start the Hoonigan Racing Division to further his career in professional rally racing. Title-sponsor Monster Energy joined in, and with them, he would enter a 2011-spec Ford Fiesta RS WRC into the World Rally Championship. It would be the start of a multi-year run in various very fast and increasingly wilder Fords before working on other project cars and partnering with Audi in 2021.

Ken Block and his Audi S1 Hoonitron – CarMagazine.co.uk

Gymkhana, the legacy

Ken Block amassed millions of fans with his Gymkhana series. First airing on YouTube in 2008, he released a four-and-a-half-minute clip of practice takes in his wild 530bhp Subaru WRX STI from 2006. A car he knew by heart thanks to his rally racing experience, the clip showed Ken Block going absolutely mental in the Impreza performing all sorts of lunatic stunts on a closed airfield somewhere in the USA.

Gymkhana is actually a form of motorsports with the goal of completing a course as fast as possible and with as few mistakes as possible. It’s derived from horse racing, long before the invention of the car, where riders would have to pick up small flags along a course to win the race. It was already very popular in Asia, New Zealand and Australia before it made the jump to the rest of the world through Ken Block’s efforts, who took it to the extreme.

In fourteen years of Gymkhana, Ken Block blasted around Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dubai and other big cities. In 2017 he raced his Hoonicorn, a heavily modified 1965 Ford Mustang up the Pike’s Peak International Hillclimb course, and two years after that battled the Tianmen Mountain roads in his bonkers Hoontruck (Ford F-150 pick-up). Announcing the end of the partnership with Ford in 2021, he didn’t stop there and presented the Hoonpigasus and Hoonitron project cars.

The Hoonipigasus, with Ken Block on the far right.

The Hoonipigasus is an absolutely mental racing car loosely based on a classic Porsche 911, producing 1,400 horsepower from a 2016 Porsche 911 GTR3 R race car engine. The sole purpose of this car was to blast up Pike’s Peak during the 2022 Hillclimb event, but technical issues with the car prevented Ken from doing so. The Hoonitron is a completely different beast, built in partnership with Audi to explore the boundaries of electrification. This was featured in the 2022 Gymkhana episode called ‘Electrikhana: High Stakes Playground’, which took over the streets of Las Vegas. This would sadly be his last ever Gymkhana lunacy, although fellow Hoonigan Travis Pastrana seems like a perfect candidate to carry on the tradition.

We say farewell to one of the biggest car guys on the planet, who sadly passed away far too soon, leaving a wife and daughter behind. He will be forever remembered for his relentless thrashing of cars and his laid-back, relaxed attitude. Ken Block has left a lasting impression on car culture and its community, reshaping it through all his antics, more so than he perhaps ever realised. And with that, we say thank you Ken Block; you are a legend!


Editorial Note: Images used in this article are sourced from MotorAuthority.com, CarMagazine.co.uk and VideoGamesChronicle.com and Audi-Mediacenter.com

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