Ken Block’s Gymkhana Grid – Invitational at Toyota Speedway

gymkhana grid 

Ken Block’s Gymkhana Grid – Invitational at Toyota Speedway

By Laura Heng, photos by Jeff Naeyaert

With Formula D, Redline Time Attack, and SuperLap Battle all on winter break what is a racer to do during the downtime?  Thankfully actions sports superstar Ken Block has cooked up a brand new form of motorsport that is a hybrid of drifting, autocross, Rally, stunt driving, and a little bit of drag racing.  Ken Block put his own stamp on gymkhana and unleashed some of the world’s best drivers and machines on the Irwindale tarmac to show the rest of the world what US based gymkhana is all about.  The Gymkhana GRID Ken Block Invitational was able to draw out the heavy hitters from their winter hibernation to pit car and driver from various driving disciplines against each other in a heads up tire shredding battle that looks a little something like the original Ken Block viral videos.  

Ken Block Gymkhana Grid Tanner Foust Ford Fiesta
This is not Tanner Foust’s Papadakis Racing Scion Formula D ride. Although this might look like a drift event photo it is actually turn 4 on the Gymkhana Grid course.  If you’re paying close attention you’ll notice that this car is Tanner’s AWD Ford Fiesta Rally cross car which you would never find at a drift event. 
ken block
The ultra trick Ford Fiesta rallycross cars that Tanner Foust and Ken Block drove in AWD class are super exotic machines full of WRC technology that are purpose built for this type of competition.  The other cars in the event were hopelessly outgunned.  Look for a full feature on Ken Block’s car coming to MotoIQ soon!

The coolest thing about Ken Block’s own version Gymkhana is that it combines all of the exciting aspects of many different forms of motorsport.  You get the big smoke and huge power slides from cars making in excess of 600hp.  Then there is also the technical driving aspect of stunt driving where drivers have to navigate through really tight boxes where the fastest way around them is sideways.  The part that really got us on our feet was the drag racing element of gymkhana where some cars were able to pull off come from behind wins through raw straight line acceleration.   

Ken Block Gymkhana Grid Invitational Course Layout
It might look like organized chaos but through all of the tire smoke and the occasional K-rail contact this is an extremely technical course the requires intense driver concentration and memorization.  The course was designed by Ken Block himself.  
A brief introduction to the sport is in order since this is the first time most of us have laid eyes on this type of event.  It is a little like the viral videos Ken Block wowed the world with in his Gymkhana 1, 2, & 3.  Gymkhana Grid is much like autocross where a course is laid out with cones, barrels, and plastic barriers in a mirror imaged course.  Just like drag racing there is a lane choice and a starter tree where the two cars line up and try to get the best launch possible onto the course.  Once on the course the cars go through a series of sweepers like drifting, through a slalom course like an  autocross, and then some really tight 360’s and one 720 degree spin.  During the tire smoking pirouettes the front bumpers are literally kissing the barrels and sometimes just brushing the plastic K-rail barriers.  The cars must stay sideways through most of the course which makes it exciting to watch and very challenging for the drivers and suspension engineers.  
From some of the photos you would think that this is a drift event but this is one of the sweepers the drivers were required to drift through.   Tony Brakchiapa shows how it’s done in the Tuskegee Airmen Tribute Ford Mustang Besides Competing in Formula D, few people know that Tony is an accomplished road racer.


Ken Block Gymkhana Grid Dai Yoshihara Team Falken Nissan 240SX
You can see just how soft the rear suspension is on the Falken S13 drift car.  There is a small dip on the front straight at Irwindale and Dai’s car would scrape the subframe and tuck rim as he accelerated towards the big sweeper.  Actually Team Falken Engineer Mike Kojima says the car was not set up soft for the event but the shocks were set to blow off easily in compression to maximize mechanical grip, whatever that means.


The quick way around this obstacle is sideways.  Right after this slide the cars had to immediately accelerate and navigate a short slalom course.  Many of the cars struggled to find the rear end grip they needed to move forward instead of sideways.  Matt Powers ran strong all weekend and made it into the finals with his Need for Speed, Nitto Tire, Jim Wolf Technology S14. 

Calvin Wan
It was great to see our friend Calvin Wan back in a major competition again.  Calvin tore it up qualifying third and making it into the top 16.  The Drift Sumi Mazda FD is Calvin’s beloved personal car.


Ross Petty
Look closely!  The Garage Boso S15 has been taken apart to ready it for the 2011 season with a rumored V8 swap.  Ross is driving the seldom seen rasta S14.  Ross burned out so hard on one run that the cabin became so smoke filled he could not see and had to stop.  It was sorta like Cheech and Chong.


laura heng and christa kojima
The author with Christa Kojima in the spotter’s stand.  Christa was spotting for Dai Yoshihara by timing the RWD competition.


Mike Essa
Mike Essa should have won more than just the burnout contest but he drove the course using a lot of drift style which we think slowed him down.  Mike’s car is the all time best sounding car out there.  It’s M5 V10 uttering a scream that gives goosebumps.


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