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F1 2022

Ken Block's popularity nearly resulted in an F1 test for rally star

The late Ken Block reinvigorated the interest in rally at a time that it was losing popularity, something that would nearly result in an F1 test with Pirelli.

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Although he was not the most successful rally driver, Ken Block became a trailblazer and motorsport icon in his own right.

His 'Gymkhana' stunt videos were popular before the days of TikTok and Instagram, providing some much-needed life into the world of rally.

The concept was simple: take a rally car and power slide it through an assault course. Even the name was enough to get people hooked - did you know about the word 'Gymkhana' before Block?

Even though the first video used a road-going Subaru WRX STI (you can hear the door chime in the film!), the later versions featured iconic cars of modern rally and even more crazy settings.

To this day the videos have garnered views in the millions, the highest being Gymkhana Five at 113 million which sees Block race through the hills of San Francisco.

This popularity gained him a spot on the UK show Top Gear in which he took James May around his playground airfield, while also becoming the cover star of the DiRT Rally video games (formally the Colin McRae Rally series).

It's the sort of attention that rally was desperately looking for after nine years of dominance from Sebastien Loeb waned its popularity at World Championship level.

Article continues below video.

An F1 test beckons

With Block becoming a notable figure in the world of motorsport, Pirelli announced in 2011 that he would be on for a test with the tyre-maker at Monza.

At that time Pirelli was in its first F1 season and was using a Toyota TF109 from the 2009 season to help with tyre development.

When it came to preparing Block for the test they discovered that, while he could fit in the car designed for the shorter Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, his legs obstructed the movement of the steering wheel.

The test was ultimately abandoned due to the time constraints needed to make modifications, but it shows just how popular such a PR stunt would've been at a time F1 was also experiencing stagnating viewership worldwide.

Lewis Hamilton, who once raced against Block at a Top Gear Live event in Barbados, said he was "devastated" to learn of his passing. Jenson Button also said that he was in "total shock" and "disbelief."


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