Last Friday, Ken Block landed in the UK to rip up some perfectly good tyres. He was here to drive one of his Gymkhana routines at Battersea Power Station, around an exact replica of the course you can drive for yourself, sort of, in the upcoming DiRT3 video game. And because he’s a nice bloke, he offered us a ride. Maybe he felt bad for rolling our Reliant Robin. Or maybe he expected James May to turn up and ride shotgun like he did on the telly a while ago. Either way, we said thank you very much and sent TopGear magazine’s Dan Read along. What was it like? Over to him…
It’s about four seconds into the ride that I realise I’m way too small. The top of the dashboard is level with my forehead and blocks the horizon. There’s nowhere to pin my focus, just a cloudless blue sky filling the windscreen. Then Block chucks us into a long drift, and the sky is replaced by bits of Battersea that whirl across my field of vision like debris in a tornado. Big white chimney. Red digger. Terrified pigeon.
This is Ken’s WRC Focus from last season, the exact one he used for Rally GB. Today it has rear-biased four-wheel drive and about 300bhp. That might not sound like much, but when the boost arrives it’s like we’re hooked up to a torpedo with a towrope. There’s no pause for the tyres to bite the tarmac, just an instant rush as the world smudges past the window. My head smacks the seat, my kidneys slap together around the back of my ribcage, and a torrent of blood shoots from my tummy to my head.
Five seconds in, and this isn’t as fun as I’d hoped. It’s deeply unpleasant. While I huff all the air from my lungs and tense every fibre of every muscle (a pilot once told me that’s how you deal with this sort of thing; he was possibly fibbing), Ken twirls the wheel and points us between skips and scaffolding. Despite the violence of it all, his actions are deft. He eases on the handbrake, turning the Focus into a giant pendulum that arcs perfectly around oil drums and lampposts. He donuts around cones, nudging them with the bumper like a seal nosing a ball. All the while the Focus is hissing and chattering while Block calmly balances throttle and steering and gearshifts.
All this continues for another minute or so. My eyes are sloshed around in their sockets until I clamp down my eyelids and start humming to myself. We finally stop, someone flings open my door and pops open my harness. I slump from the car, panting like an old dog, wondering how the hell a rally co-driver manages to handle all that. While reading. And shouting things.
And to think that Block does all this for a bit of fun, in between the serious business of the World Rally Championship. That means he’s either a) masochistic, or b) in possession of some rather imposing man parts. I’m guessing it’s the latter. That, plus the sort of talent most of us could only dream of.
For more WRC news, head to TopGear.com’s dedicated section with the latest coverage from this year’s championship