THE BRIT WHO TAMES BLOCK’S MON­STERS

There is a very English con­nec­tion be­hind the show­man’s spe­cial cars. By David Evans

Motor Sport News - - Monsters: Block’s Brit Link - Pho­tos: Hooni­gan Rac­ing

W

atch any round of the FIA World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship and you’re un­likely to spot him. It was the same in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship. He was usu­ally in the car sit­ting next to a man called An­drew.

And now there’s Hol­ly­wood. While any num­ber of La-types fid­dle with lights and cam­eras – they leave the ac­tion to Ken. And Derek.

Ken is Ken Block. You prob­a­bly knew that. But Derek? That’s DD, or Derek Dauncey.

Block’s pro­file is in­cred­i­ble Re­mark­able. And it’s a pro­file with lots of num­bers at­tached to it. He’s got this many fol­low­ers for that, that many friends for this. It’s end­less.

What he hasn’t got is a cham­pi­onship. When it comes to ti­tles? Nada. Noth­ing.

For­tu­nately, Dauncey’s the man for ti­tles. He won five of them in his time in Rugby with An­drew Cowan: four suc­ces­sive driv­ers’ crowns from Tommi Maki­nen and also the WRC man­u­fac­tur­ers’ cham­pi­onship in 1998.

“It’s funny,” says Dauncey, “for all the suc­cess I knew with Mit­subishi and have known in the sport, scor­ing a podium at this year’s World RX of Hock­en­heim with Ken was just as spe­cial. With Ken it’s a bit more per­sonal, I’m work­ing closely with him his driv­ing and ap­proach.”

Block leans heav­ily on Dauncey and his 27 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in mo­tor­sport. Much of what the Hooni­gan Rac­ing Divi­sion does is show busi­ness, but when it comes to the cars, it’s Derek’s call.

“He knows what the cars can do,” says Block, “ba­si­cally, he knows about this sport, about where we need to be and what we need to be do­ing. He’s the guy.”

The pair first worked to­gether a decade ago when Block joined the Subaru Rally Team USA, where Dauncey was run­ning the team.

They got on well and when Block was ready to move on and branch out into the World Rally Cham­pi­onship, Dauncey was the ob­vi­ous man to help make that move work.

The pair aren’t ex­actly an ob­vi­ous fit. KB’S a Californian who made good in skate shoes and even­tu­ally sold DC to Quik­sil­ver for around £100m, be­fore jump­ing back on­board as a con­sul­tant to ramp the value to around five times that.

Dauncey’s a for­mer night­club man­ager from Sut­ton Cold­field.

They did, how­ever, both have an early love of the Blue Oval.

“My dad had a Ford truck,” says Block, “when we were liv­ing in Long Beach. It had a hand­brake and it could do burnouts…”

Dauncey’s early Ford story is a lit­tle bit more Mo­tor­sport News.

“I got into this sport watch­ing the RAC Rally go through Sut­ton Park,” he says, “as soon as I could, I started road ral­ly­ing. I used Es­corts, al­ways Es­corts.”

Quick and brave, Dauncey left his mark on the sport as well as on the side of his mum’s fam­ily house in Sut­ton Cold­field.

“I rolled on one road rally and had an­other event the next week­end,” he says, “so we had to get a new shell as quickly as pos­si­ble. I found one, a lovely 1300E – just what we were af­ter, but it was a hor­ri­ble colour. I needed a re­spray. We did this at the side of my

mum’s house. I thought some­body had put the sheet up against the wall, they hadn’t. Mum came out at two in the morn­ing to find us scrub­bing the side of the house. She wasn’t im­pressed.”

Look closely and, even though the Dauncey fam­ily’s gone, the un­in­ten­tional graf­fiti’s still there.

“I smile every time I drive past that place and see the paint,” he says.

Not that he’s driv­ing through the West Mid­lands much these days. Even though he still lives lo­cally, much of Dauncey’s life is spent in an aero­plane some­where over the At­lantic.

“We have a lot go­ing on with Ken,” he says. “He’s never still, he’s al­ways got his mind on some­thing else – he’s so creative, so much of what we do comes straight from him. He can be hard to keep up with, but there’s def­i­nitely never a dull mo­ment.”

Es­pe­cially not when you’re on set film­ing Gymkhana. Block’s block­bust­ing skid-fest re­mains in­sanely pop­u­lar, with a com­bined au­di­ence for the eight films head­ing to­wards half-a-bil­lion views. Pre­dictably, those movies are a mon­ster hit with spon­sors Mon­ster and Ford, so they have to be fac­tored in every year.

“A lot of work goes into the Gymkhana films,” says Dauncey, “and they’re re­ally good to do. As long as we can keep com­ing up with some­thing fresh then we’ll keep on do­ing them. We’re usu­ally plan­ning two to three years ahead to fac­tor in new car builds and get­ting the right per­mis­sions to use the right roads.”

Block has now shut down Los An­ge­les, San Fran­cisco and the mid­dle of Dubai to do his donuts. He event brought his four-wheel-drive Mus­tang over here and, con­tro­ver­sially, painted black lines on Lon­don’s city streets.

The neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity around the Top Gear stunt of­fered more am­mu­ni­tion to Block’s de­trac­tors – those who see this brash, ban­dana-wear­ing yank whose abil­ity in a car goes lit­tle fur­ther than be­ing able to pull the hand­brake. They’re wrong. I’ve known Block for most of his decade in the sport and I’ve seen the work he puts in and the ded­i­ca­tion it takes to keep his show on the road. It’s not all about the driv­ing for Block, it’s about the sideshow as well. It’s about keep­ing the spon­sors happy and, above all, keep­ing his fans happy. He’s emp­tied more marker pens sign­ing au­to­graphs than prob­a­bly any other driver in mo­tor­sport right now.

The prob­lem for Block has been the lack of a year-long pro­gramme. In 2011 he con­tested nine WRC rounds – the most he could fit into a sin­gle sea­son. Since then his world cham­pi­onship par­tic­i­pa­tion has dwin­dled and last year he did none. He has to go where his spon­sors want to see him and where he can guar­an­tee the best re­turn.

Sadly, for him and for his fans, that’s not the World Rally Cham­pi­onship.

“I love stage ral­ly­ing,” says Block, “that’s where I be­gan ral­ly­ing and that’s what I want to do, but it’s not al­ways pos­si­ble.”

Last year was a mix of Rally Amer­ica and Global Ral­ly­cross. This year, there’s no mix. It’s all World RX and noth­ing else.

“I wanted to fo­cus on one se­ries,” he says. “This is some­thing I’ve been try­ing to do for a while and now I have the chance. It was pretty crazy try­ing to get the car built and fin­ished in time, we only got sign-off on World RX quite late.

“I have to say how stoked I am to be work­ing with Ford and with M-sport, we’re get­ting a lot of tech­ni­cal sup­port this year and the car is fan­tas­tic. We haven’t had much time to test this year, I did a day be­fore the last round, but ev­ery­thing is com­ing to­gether now.”

Dauncey ad­mits the de­layed start to test­ing has put a slightly dif­fer­ent slant on this year for Block.

“We’re learn­ing a lot this year,” says Dauncey. “I think maybe we un­der­es­ti­mated just how much there was to take on­board with the new car and the new tracks. We’re look­ing a lit­tle bit more as this is a test­ing year be­fore we come back with some more ex­pe­ri­ence next sea­son.

“There’s no doubt the com­pe­ti­tion has stepped up from the last time Ken was here. We came to World RX two years ago and Ken was on the podium in Nor­way and fourth with a fastest lap in France. The cars and the guys like Pet­ter [Sol­berg] and Mat­tias [Ek­strom] are re­ally hard to beat now, the rac­ing is very, very tough. A cou­ple of years ago, you only re­ally had to sur­vive your heats and you were look­ing good for the semi-fi­nal, but now you have to be on it through every sin­gle race to try and make the top 12. Ken’s been 13th a cou­ple of times.”

Block’s com­mit­ted to World RX next sea­son, so does that mean he’ll miss out on ral­ly­ing for an­other year?

“We want to do some­thing in ral­ly­ing next year,” says Dauncey. “The first thing to go onto the cal­en­dar are the World RX dates, but af­ter that let’s see what fits. The prob­lem we have with the World Rally Cham­pi­onship is the length of time it takes to do one of the rounds.

“With a pre-event test, then the recce, then the event, you can be look­ing at two weeks and try­ing to find a gap in Ken’s cal­en­dar that big is a very big ask. He’s re­ally keen to do more, so let’s see what can hap­pen.”

An­other is­sue for Block com­ing to WRC is his pro­file and the ex­pec­ta­tion that pro­file raises every time he starts a rally.

“Peo­ple have to re­mem­ber that when Ken goes to do a rally now, he’s go­ing there to en­joy it,” Dauncey says. “The ex­pec­ta­tion is so high and while we’re al­ways out there to get the ab­so­lute best re­sult we can, the sim­ple fact is that he’s just not in the car of­ten enough to com­pete right at the sharp end.”

It looks like he’s go­ing to be in a ral­ly­cross car more of­ten in the near fu­ture though.

“This game is all about mileage and seat time,” says Dauncey, “get a driver in the car and you’ll see a dif­fer­ence. We saw this when Ken was do­ing WRC a few years ago – every time he missed a round, we took a small step back­wards to build the pace up again.

“We’ve got our test car com­ing on­line soon and that can’t hap­pen soon enough. We’ll be test­ing at tracks and work­ing on the set-up much more and that’s go­ing to help him in the sec­ond half of this year and into next year. The only prob­lem is the lo­gis­tics and mak­ing sure we’re not on a track 50 days be­fore the World RX round goes there.”

The lo­gis­tics will be no prob­lem for Dauncey. He does them in his sleep. And has done for al­most three decades now.

“I love this job,” he says, “it’s so dif­fer­ent. Do I miss the WRC? Of course you miss bits of it, like Ken I’m a rally fan at heart, but the va­ri­ety on of­fer with what we’re do­ing here is just in­cred­i­ble. How many peo­ple get the chance to over­see the build of a four-wheel-drive Mus­tang or film­ing un­der the Hol­ly­wood sign? It’s an amaz­ing job.”

We’ve come quite a long way in the story and not men­tioned the 50 thing. But there’s no avoid­ing it now. KB’S 48. But he’s not your av­er­age 48. “The age thing just doesn’t bother ei­ther of us,” says Dauncey, who’s just the other side of the half-cen­tury. “We have long-term agree­ments in place and the likes of Mon­ster, Ford and M-sport has been so sup­port­ive of what we’re do­ing – the fo­cus is on re­pay­ing them with ti­tles, not wor­ry­ing about how old we are.

“Ken and I have al­ways said, as long as we’re en­joy­ing what we’re do­ing and Hooni­gan Rac­ing is still com­pet­i­tive then we’ll carry on.

“I’m so lucky to have done what I’ve done. Al­most 30 years ago, I was do­ing a bit of work for Co-ord­sport, but pretty much every day I was on the phone to Ral­liart to try and badger them into giv­ing me a job. In the end, I got a cou­ple of days’ work load­ing the trucks for the Monte Carlo Rally in 1992. Then I got a cou­ple more days’ work, then I was asked to stay on and get the kit ready for Swe­den while the team was away on the Monte.

“When they got back from there, I was of­fered a job. I had to take a pretty big pay-cut from work­ing the night­clubs, but I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to land my­self in the mid­dle of this big ad­ven­ture. I’ve worked with seven world cham­pi­ons and driv­ers as var­ied as big Bjorn Walde­gard and [Hideaki] ‘Mad Dog’ Miyoshi. And still the chal­lenge goes on – and the chal­lenge for me now is to win a cham­pi­onship with Ken.”

And then there’s the moon to book for the next Gymkhana… ■

Block has sup­port of Brit Derek Dauncey

Dauncey (left) runs Block’s RX ma­chin­ery Block isn’t done with WRC Hooni­gan Mus­tang has been a huge hit, and gives Dauncey a chal­lenge

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