INTERVIEW: Ken Block goes electric with Audi

INTERVIEW: Ken Block goes electric with Audi

North American Racing

INTERVIEW: Ken Block goes electric with Audi

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In 1932 German auto manufacturer Audi merged with automobile companies Horch, DKW and Wanderer to form Auto Union. During the period, Auto Union created the line: ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’, or ‘Being ahead through technology.’ The modern era for Audi began in the 1960s when Auto Union was acquired by Volkswagen. In 1965 the brand was relaunched as Audi with the “Being Ahead through Technology” line stamped into the company’s processes and products.

Fast-forward nearly 60 years and that slogan rang true with Ken Block.

“Audi is the brand that ignited my brand for motorsport,” said Block in a 2021 news release announcing his partnership with the brand. “Together, we will develop innovative projects and push the boundaries of electric mobility.”

RACER sat down with him to learn more.

Q: Audi, electricity… you’re in something of a new dimension now, aren’t you?

KEN BLOCK: Yeah, it has been a pretty cool ride here doing these gymkhana films and really living out my dreams of being a rally driver, and driving cars this impressive and making cool marketing projects like this. To be able to work with great brands like Ford and Subaru was incredible and building amazing projects like the Hoonicorn has really been a wild experience, but then to be able to take a step up into the future with an incredible brand like Audi has been amazing.

Audi has been willing to kind of put things out on the line and create some really unique and quite dynamic projects around e-cars like the S1 Hoonitron they built me, and it has just been incredibly cool. I mean, Audi is the brand that influenced me to like rallying when I was younger. Now I’m working with them and they’re building me amazing cars and I get to go create these incredible film projects like ELECTRIKANHA in Vegas with them.

It is beyond a dream come true at this point. It really is incredible to also be on the forefront of developing electric car technologies, and the development of cool products around it is just wild. There are not very many performance EVs out there, especially one-off prototypes like the Hoonitron, so it was amazing to have them build me this car and then work with us to develop it to really perform in ways that I’ve just never experienced with other cars.

Q: How did the Audi connection come together?

KB: My business partner in Hoonigan, Brian Scotto, is an absolute Audi nerd and he’s had many Audis through the years. He’s been working with them for several years now, and when my contract was up with Ford he mentioned the possibility of us working together. It took a few years to put it all together, it wasn’t something that happened overnight. It all really aligned with Audi wanting to push their performance message in the EV space. They saw us as a great way to create a whole different message than what the other EV brands are doing out there in the marketplace. We have a very distinct audience with Hoonigan and I have a very big fanbase with what I do with rally and gymkhana and rallycross, so to combine all of that together with some very great performance products was something that Audi really likes. We put together a great program that works well for both of us and it’s been a really fun ride.

Q: The Audi S1 e-tron quattro Hoonitron was heavily influenced by the Audi Sport Quattro S1 Group B rally car the great 1980 and 1982 World Rally Champion Walter Rohrl powered up Pikes Peak in Colorado in 1987. Can you speak about that?

KB: Absolutely. Back in the 1980s rally didn’t have a lot of exposure in America, so for me to actually see it when I was a kid and to be influenced by it is really cool. Watching things like ABC’s Wide World of Sports and paying attention to the development to the all-wheel-drive system by Audi in magazines like Car and Driver magazine and Motor Trend really influenced me. As Audi was coming over to the States and racing at Pikes Peak, they were winning with the all-wheel-drive systems that were developing in the World Rally Championship with the Quattro S1 Pikes Peak in 1987. It has just been one of my favorite cars in the world for a really, really long time – basically since I saw it as a kid. Now, to work with Audi later in my life after becoming a rally driver and having a lot of success and enjoyment with this career, it’s all just really kind of a carrot on top of being able to experience and work with such great companies throughout this career.

Man, I’ve met Hans Stuck and Walter Rohrl and all of these heroes of mine that really influenced me when I was young. Now to be able to drive some of their vehicles and even have the current gymkhana being designed by Audi’s design center, it has just been an incredible journey and I’ve got to thank the great people and the great company of Audi for wanting to be involved in me and my company.

Q: What is your take on automotive electric mobility and the future?

KB: The thing is as a race car driver… I just want things that make me go fast and win. I look at the EV revolution as a very unique and interesting thing. A lot of people just like to complain about the lack of noise, but for me, I enjoy the development of new and amazing things, so I’ve had an incredible time racing and developing various rally cars and gymkhana cars and working with great companies like M-Sport and the companies that build things like the Hoonicorn or us.

It has been very fun to work with a company like Audi and help develop some of the systems and programming and ideas around the things you can do with an all-wheel-drive vehicle like this. It has just been very cool. It’s an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up. I love working on new developments and thinking of things in different ways and the idea of developing a gymkhana car from scratch with an incredible company like Audi is an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.

Q: A recent Ken Block quote that I want to lay on you: “Electric mobility is the future.” Is that how you see things?

KB: Yeah, I mean electric motors have been around forever, but making it function for mobility like this has not really been as accessible as it has been as it has been for, say, the past five years. It is really taking a push from the public saying, “Hey, this is something that we want!” that has really helped push the manufacturers to develop some great new technologies.

It’s not perfect, by any means. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to how good it can be. But for me, it is really fun being part of that development and seeing where this can go and seeing some advantages now. There are things I can do with this Hoonitron that I just can’t do with my other cars, you know? I’m not restricted by a gearbox, I’m not restricted by the fact that you can’t go 50 miles an hour forward in a regular car and put it in reverse, but I can do that in an electric car! So, it’s cool stuff like that that just opens up different areas of opportunity that are very interesting to me.

I’m all for progress and the development of new things that will make out lives better. If I can help in any way by creating a little tire smoke to hopefully illuminate things and make more ways to make mobility better, I’m all for that.

Q: All of this can potentially have a profound effect on the automotive and automotive aftermarket industry, can’t it?

KB: I hope so. I think for car racing and motocross and bike racing, it is still a ways out until there is a perfect for all of this. However, if we are not trying and not pushing manufacturers, then we’re going to stay kind of stagnant with what we have done for decades and decades. You’re seeing things like Nitro Rallycross and Audi develop new electric vehicles that are really performing well. There are places where the EV technology really can make a difference and make the vehicle really perform. Just finding these right avenues and finding the right technologies and developing all of the platforms is a lot of work, and for me it has been very cool to work with Audi to start from scratch developing this quattro system and what it can do. We are actually exceeding expectations of where I thought we would be with it.

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