- Jen Horsey, Action Sports
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"I feel like I kind of [peed] on Ken's couch a little," Tanner Foust told fans and reporters this weekend after he took home the win in Ken Block's invitational Gymkhana Grid event.
The contest, held Friday and Saturday at Irwindale Speedway, Calif., was the first in a planned series intended to showcase the precision and car control popularized by Block in his insanely popular Gymkhana videos. The format featured head-to-head competition on mirrored courses designed by Block to feature both precision driving and high speeds.
"It was a fun contest, ripping around in a high-powered racecar and putting down a whole lot of rubber," said Foust.
Drivers -- many of whom were invited to the contest by Block himself -- attempted to set the fastest time as they negotiated a pre-determined sequence of drifts, figure eights, donuts and slaloms.
And while Block was undoubtedly the guest of honor at the contest, there was no shortage of buzz about Foust. His multi-disciplinary racing experience, double gold medals at this year's X Games 16 and stunt-driving background meant nobody was prepared to count him out.
In the end, the two days of qualifying and competition came down to a much-hyped showdown between the two titans in their similar, all-wheel drive Ford Fiestas. The cars, both prepared by the Olsbergs MSE Ford team, are the same type of vehicles featured at X Games for the past two years. The cars are fast and nimble machines, featuring a 550 horsepower engine and 2.5-second 0-60 mph acceleration times.
In making gymkhana videos, showy slides and lots of smoke are the order of the day. When it comes to head-to-head racing, less sliding is faster and precision keeps drivers clear of penalties. Both drivers made mistakes in the two-run final round: Foust hit a barrel on his first run, drawing a one-second penalty, while Block hit one on his second. But when the times came in, it was Foust who set the fastest pace on both laps, earning him the overall win.
"I knew the Rockstar Energy camp had a shot but I'm always so impressed with Ken's videos that I didn't go in expecting to beat him," said Foust.
Block has long championed the gymkhana format, originally based on a style of horse-racing competition (also called gymkhana). Legend has it that Block's original viral "Gymkhana Practice" video was meant to show off some laps Block was doing in preparation for competition in a car built for a series that never got off the ground. The video was so popular, he made more. And now it's come full circle and we're back to competition.
(If you aren't already among the tens of millions of people who've watched these videos, I'm not even sure why I'm talking to you right now. At least watch them here: Gymkhana Practice Gymkhana Two: The Infomercial and Gymkhana Three: Part 2).
For his part, Foust said he wasn't sure how he'd enjoy the format and he was on the fence about entering the event until some last-minute encouragement by Block got him to the start line on the weekend.
Block remained a gracious host right until the end, saying he had been looking forward to the competition and having a chance to measure himself against other drivers.
"I'm just off making the videos and doing that stuff and it's just all for fun and there's nothing to push me to be quicker and quicker," said Block. "Hey: I'm not happy with second place but the great thing for this is to be able to push to get quicker and better."
Good news for Block's fans: he said this weekend's contest has spurred him to keep practicing and tweaking his car for next time. And that can only mean more kick-butt videos.
The event featured a host of rear-wheel and all-wheel drive motorsport competitors including X Games veterans Foust, Block, Andrew "ACP" Comrie-Picard, Stephan Verdier and Bucky Lasek. The rear-wheel drive category was a veritable who's-who of professional drifting, including 2010 Formula Drift champion Vaughn Gittin Jr., and Dai Yoshihara, who took the rear-wheel drive win.