Ken Block returns to the World Rally Championship for the latest outing in his partial 2010 program this weekend in Germany, where the American rallyist will tackle an asphalt event for the first time ever.
Q. How was your test for Rally Germany?
Ken Block: It was good. I got to do around 150 kilometers, which was just about 850 too little! Actually, it was good practice. I got to sit in with Jari-Matti [Latvala] and he sat in with me and gave me some good feedback.
Q. What did Latvala tell you?
KB: A variety of things. All my mentality is set to gravel: where to brake. For example, when I hear, 'Right six, 30, right, one,' I know exactly to brake on gravel. On asphalt I have to reset all those levels because I just don't know. It's a really big learning experience that he helped with, telling me when to brake, how hard to brake, what to look for from the setup of the car, everything like that.
I was really happy with the way the test went. I feel comfortable, but it takes years to develop the speed and it just happens to be my first asphalt event is probably the toughest asphalt event, obviously in the championship, but probably in the world as well. So, I have a lot of respect for these roads and I want to really enjoy myself. But I'm realistic about where I stand. I'm here for some mileage. I expect to be last of the WRC cars, but it's going to be good experience and I'll have a lot of fun doing it.
Q. If you'd gone to an event like Catalunya, you'd have more consistency with the surface and grip levels, wouldn't that have been a better bet for the first asphalt event?
KB: It probably would have been a lot easier, but this is a development year for me and this rally and the next one are in the championship next year – and they're important markets for Monster, so that's why I'm here. It'll be great for next year: I'll have the notes and the in-car [footage]. I'm here to do every mile, but it's a lot of fun.
I really enjoyed shakedown, except that all of my testing was done on the soft tire and then at shakedown I ran with the hard Pirelli because they wanted to save the softs. It was quite frightening the first time through – I wish I'd done a little testing on the hard, so I had some familiarity with it. The times for me at shakedown were pretty similar to some of the guys at the back, which was OK for me.
Q. And what about the route for this event – what do you think of the stages?
KB: It really is three rallies in one. Each day is so different. Day one has vineyards and stuff through the forests and towns, day two is the open fields and Baumholder and day three all vineyards; it's so distinctly different, but it's really cool. The stages are a huge challenge, it's going to be great.
I think it's going to be quite humbling when I have to look at my times compared with some of the other guys, but I'm realistic about where I sit. I've just got to get out there, take it easy and then build up some speed.
Q. What about the 48-kilometer stage in Panzerplatte?
KB: It's amazing. It took us almost an hour to recce it. It's a huge challenge. There are so many variants on the grip level, the corner gradients, the road conditions, you know you just have to give a lot of respect to that place. I'm looking forward to it, but I've seen some of the crashes in there – particularly Petter [Solberg]'s – and I know it's a stage you have to give a lot of respect to.
Q. How much more do you have to do in America this year?
KB: The big thing for me in America now is the Gymkhana invitation event we have in December. We're inviting guys like Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust and a few others to make a nice show. The course is in the middle of an oval with a mirrored track, so we go off the line together, but then one turns right and the other goes left. The courses will be identical in length, which makes it real easy for the crowd to see who's winning. It's a lot about car control, speed and fun.
Q. You're not doing anything in the U.S. next year, so will it be difficult to leave all of that behind and come to Europe lock, stock and barrel?
KB: The most difficult thing is that I would have loved to have won the championship with this being my last year, but the car had some technical issues and you can't win a championship when you go out three or four times with technical issues. Out of six events we had four DNFs which were largely mechanical and one crash, so I had five DNFs and one win. Unfortunately, you can't win like that.
Q. Would you like to go back?
KB: I would, yes. But the WRC is where I want to be. If I only have the time and focus on the WRC then my performance will definitely improve. You know, I've been here in Germany for five days and my sleep is just barely getting to normal, working on four or five hours sleep a night is really difficult. So to focus on one car, work on the WRC, live in Europe, I know my performance will improve. And, WRC has always been the goal. I loved competing in America, but this is where I want to be.
Q. Has this year been harder than you expected?
KB: Yeah, I would say so, the schedule has been tough. If all I had to do was race and there were no sponsorship commitments between and various other events, it would be a lot easier. But the schedule is so busy, it makes it extremely difficult. Next year, if I can reduce some of that stuff, and focus on the racing and developing the new car it would make a huge difference for me.
We've always said from the beginning this is a development year for me. In Turkey, with the top six times, I'm way farther ahead on the speed than I thought I would be, my notes are improving and I'm about to get the experience on asphalt rounds – so I'm setting myself up well for next year.