For driving enthusiasts and Ken Block fans, last month's release of "Gymkhana THREE, Part 1; The Music Video Infomercial" was a bit of a disappointment. Sure, the song was catchy and the production value was impressive. But where was the driving? That's what made the first video a viral sensation, what drew a total of 70 million sets of eyeballs to the first two videos and what earned "Gymkhana TWO" the No. 10 spot on Ad Age's recent list of Top 10 Viral Ads of All Time. So where was it? Where were the tire-screeching 360s, visual stunts and goofy antics featuring daring co-stars on Segways?
They were in Part 2.
In this video, there is no music. There are no Cool Kids, neon paint drips or fancy lighting tricks. There is simply driving. But nothing about the driving in "Gymkhana THREE, Part 2; Ultimate Playground" is simple. In fact, DC Shoes co-founder and World Rally Championship driver Block pushes his Ford Fiesta to places few drivers would believe possible. Like up the side of a 51-degree banked turn, sideways, at L'autodrome de Linas-Montlhery, a 1.58-mile oval track built in 1924 and located just south of Paris. Block happened upon a photo of the track during a six-month search for a location for the third video and flew to Paris for a site visit. Once he saw that bank, he knew he'd found his location.
"Growing up skateboarding and snowboarding, I knew what I liked to do on transitions and what I think is possible," Block says. "I bring everything I've learned in those sports into the auto world. That's what allows me to stand out. Lots of people are doing this stuff in snow and skate. No one is doing it in an automobile."
That unique perspective is what has allowed Block to reimagine what it is possible to accomplish from behind the wheel of a race car. He simply views his vehicle as a really big skateboard.
"I see things differently from other drivers," Block says. "Several years ago, Travis Pastrana and I were doing a car jump together. It was maybe 70 or 80 feet. I'd ridden motocross for 25 years and he grew up racing, so we knew how fast we needed to hit the jump to clear it safely. Another guy was with us, an 11-time national car racing champ, and he thought we were crazy. He thought it was a big risk because he didn't understand. He didn't have our perspective. To us, it was no big deal."
Despite his ability to visualize elaborate stunts for the video, Block was uncertain they would be possible until he arrived at the track in Paris. "I had no idea how the car was going to react on that wall. It's so unnatural for a car to move like that around a bank," he says.
To put the pitch on that turn into perspective, think of the track inside a bicycle velodrome. That's around 42 degrees. Few snowboard runs, aside from truly extreme big-mountain lines, hit 50-plus. In NASCAR, the steepest bank a driver will face is 36 degrees, at Bristol Motor Speedway, and those guys are driving forward, and in left-turning circles. Block drove left. He drove right. He drove in reverse, around a cone, up the wall and back down again.
"A big fear for me was rolling the car," Block says. "The top part of the bank, when you get the car under 100 miles per hour, it will start to slide down the wall. I didn't know if, when I started going slower, the wheels would catch and I would roll. I left the banked stuff 'til the end, just in case. I needed the car for the rest of the filming." Fortunately, the car never rolled.
In another section of the video, Block spins 360s so tight he could make the U.S. figure skating team, and fans of the first video will smile at the return of his infamous Segway spins. All in all, the video took about six months of conceptualizing and planning, eight sets of tires and three days of shooting to complete.
"The last day, we shot the final trick in the video," Block says. "That was the hardest trick, sliding up the bank." Because the bank is so steep and rises so quickly, and because of the angles of the windshield and roof, Block was virtually blind during the entire trick. "I had to get the car sliding and then guesstimate where the car would be when I pushed the throttle and brake based on previous runs," he says. "I couldn't see anything until I was way up at the top." With that trick in the bag, Block left wanting more.
"The biggest frustration with this video was that I felt like there was more for me to do on the banks," he says. "But there wasn't any more time."
All the more reason for "Gymkhana FOUR."
"I've always been so surprised at the response people have towards this stuff. They're typically very impressed and enjoy watching it. Hopefully they will feel the same about this one," Block says. "Because a fourth video depends on the response to this one. It's crazy. This was something I used to do for fun, and now it's this important thing people want to see and expect to be great. It's a lot of pressure. It's hard to keep reinventing the wheel."
And dreaming up new stunts to do when he's behind it.