THE BRIT WHO TAMES BLOCK’S MONSTERS
There is a very English connection behind the showman’s special cars. By David Evans
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… ■