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Tom's Hardware Talks To Champion Rally Drivers About Technology

Monster Rally Team: Ken Block

Ken Block is a driver with the Monster World Rally Team and one of the co-founders of DC Shoes. He also appeared in DiRT 2, DiRT 3, and DiRT Showdown, all of which we've used for benchmarking at one point or another. Ken and his co-driver, Alessandro Gelsomino, happened to win the Olympus Rally this year with a time of 1:21:06.5.

Tom's Hardware: New driver assist technologies, such as lane departure, braking, and active park assist are becoming more mainstream and accessible. As a "driver's" driver, how do you feel about these high-tech nannies?

Ken Block: Interesting question. I feel like anything we can do to benefit drivers is a positive thing. I’ve learned so much about car control because I’m a race car driver who has been through many different schools. It’s amazing how much you can gain from some simple knowledge about how to control a car, especially in loose-surface situations like snow, rain, and gravel. But without that information, it’s very easy to make very simple mistakes. Those technologies benefit the general populace.

Tom's Hardware: Have you already driven cars with all of those technologies?

Ken Block: Yea, I’ve driven cars with basically all that stuff. It's amazing how well the cruise control stuff works and how much you can trust it. You can be on a freeway and not have to think so much about those safe distances, and that the car is actually there to benefit you in a way to make you safer.

Tom's Hardware: But do you get bored using it?

Ken Block: Well, it all depends on the sort of driving I’m doing. If I’m doing a simple point A to point B drive, then yes it can benefit tremendously. At the same time, if I’m out to have fun on country roads and enjoy the vehicle I’m driving, then yea, I’d switch some of those things off so I could drive the way that is going to be most enjoyable.

Tom's Hardware: Are there any automotive stunts that you can now perform that push the limits of the vehicle, thanks to the advancements in technology?

Ken Block: That’s a tough one. I would say that’s beyond even my level of thinking because most of what I do is in a race car, which doesn't have any of that fun technology. So, I’ve never really put any thought into being able to use more advanced tech to do any of the stuff I want to do. It's definitely something I could think more about, but I just haven't put any thought into it.

Tom's Hardware: You’ve shown up in a number of different racing games now. Do the physics and handling characteristics of even the best titles come anywhere close to what you experience behind the wheel?

Ken Block: I’d have to say that actually working with Codemasters on the DiRT series, I was mildly surprised when they started developing the design of how everything works with the car for rally. They just did such a good job with the way the car handles, accelerates, and even understeers and oversteers in a corner; it's actually quite similar to the real car.

It was really highlighted when we started to make the Gymkhana car in DiRT, when you can really see how they are able to tweak the handling and the power output of the car based on my feedback on how it was originally handling and performing. So, I would have to say its been a great process of working with companies like Codemasters to do this sort of thing. At the end of the day nothing will ever replace actually being in the car. But it's amazing how realistic the video games have gotten, because when I sit down and play the Gymkhana car (you know, my Gymkhana car in, say, DiRT 3), it's amazing how well and accurate they’ve been able to set the car up inside the game compared to real life.

Tom's Hardware: Are you a gamer yourself? If so, what are you playing?

Ken Block: Yes, I am. Unfortunately now that I have three kids, a wife, a job, and a rally career, I don’t have time to play anymore. I really play the most when it’s around game development time with Codemasters, but other than that I haven’t been able to play. The last serious game that I really got to enjoy for fun, besides the driving games, was Halo 2. So, it's been a long time since I've really been able to play like that.

Tom's Hardware: What pieces of technology do you have on you at all times?

Ken Block: At all times I have an iPhone. I cannot live without my iPhone. On top of that, I carry an Apple laptop everywhere I go. If that were to get misplaced, I might have to shoot myself. But those two pieces of technology are just amazing. I really enjoy Apple products; they make my life much better.

Tom's Hardware: Lastly, what's your daily driver?

Ken Block: Well, I have two daily drivers. I live in Park City, Utah, so I have a car there. But I’m also formally from California, so I have a daily driver in California, too. My daily driver in California is a 2010 Ford Focus RS; that’s a European-spec. It was part of my deal when I signed with Ford to race for them; they had to bring one of the RS' over for me from Europe, so they were quite gracious in doing that and I’ve had it for two and a half years now. It’s the very obnoxious bright green color. I just absolutely love that car, and it’s been a joy to drive.

In Utah, my daily driver is a Ford Raptor. You know there’s snow on the ground six months of the year where I live up in the mountains, so it's great to have a good vehicle that can get in and out of everywhere, carry my crap around, and you know, drive over anything that I want. I’m really stoked to have this partnership with Ford because I genuinely like driving these cars that they supply me.

  • C12Friedman
    Not an article I expected to read at Tom's but an excellent article none the less!
    Nice photography
    Reply
  • amuffin
    Ken Block WR8 FLUX!
    Reply
  • tuanies
    9540426 said:
    Not an article I expected to read at Tom's but an excellent article none the less!
    Nice photography

    We try to spice things up and it was a good and fun opportunity.

    I felt a little inadequate running around with a micro 4/3s camera (Panasonic GH2) and a couple primes (Olympus 45mm & Panasonic 25mm) while everyone had D800s, but quite happy with the photo results.

    9540427 said:
    What?! No Bill Caswell?

    He wasn't at the Olympus Rally.
    Reply
  • tiret
    Quote: "Rally Enthusiasts Are A Lot Like PC Enthusiasts..."

    as these rally enthusiasts are all apple fan boys and Toms regulars are mostly not, I'm not so sure about that sentiment.

    good article though.
    Reply
  • Yuka
    Nice, nice, nice, nice.

    Kudos, Toms!

    Cheers!
    Reply
  • Ken Block a rally driver? LOL. Take a look at his WRC competition record and have a laugh. He should stick to making videos that wow the masses sheeple who don't know that real drivers have no need for such spectacles.
    Reply
  • Wisecracker
    The quality of **stuff** available these days to racers at all types of levels and skills is amazing.

    Even better: You can race anything anyhow around where I live. Most places have renegade classes, too, with claim rules to keep folks honest :)

    I do miss the old-style hill climbs (hint-hint game devs ...). Too much tech, maybe?


    Reply
  • RodolfoKSP
    What about the game Richard Burns, how could you not mention?! Are you being payed to mention Dirt and F1. F1 and why not iRacing?
    Reply
  • tuanies
    9540435 said:
    What about the game Richard Burns, how could you not mention?! Are you being payed to mention Dirt and F1. F1 and why not iRacing?

    Because Richard Burns Rally was last released in 2004, and Dirt and F1 are have more recent releases. And no we're not getting payed to mention Dirt or F1, they're just two recent racing games we at Tom's Hardware quite enjoy. Nothing against iRacing, its really cool and all but not as recognizable to the average PC gamer.
    Reply
  • tuanies
    9540434 said:
    The quality of **stuff** available these days to racers at all types of levels and skills is amazing.

    Even better: You can race anything anyhow around where I live. Most places have renegade classes, too, with claim rules to keep folks honest :)

    I do miss the old-style hill climbs (hint-hint game devs ...). Too much tech, maybe?

    Call me crazy, but I would love to rally a manual Subaru Justy 4WD for shits and giggles.
    Reply