INTERVIEW: Ken Block drives an Audi electric

In 1932, the German automobile manufacturer Audi merged with the automobile companies Horch, DKW and Wanderer to form Auto Union. During this time, Auto Union created the line: “Vorsprung durch Technik” or “Being ahead through technology”. The modern era for Audi began in the 1960s when Volkswagen took over Auto Union. In 1965, the brand was relaunched as Audi with the guiding principle “Vorsprung durch Technik”, which was embossed into the company’s processes and products.

Fast forward almost 60 years and this slogan has come true for Ken Block.

“Audi is the brand that ignited my brand for motorsport,” Block said in a 2021 press 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 find out more.

Q: Audi, Strom… You’re in a new dimension now, aren’t you?

KEN BLOCK: Yeah, it’s been a pretty cool ride here, doing these Gymkhana movies and really living out my dream of being a rally driver, driving amazing cars and doing cool marketing projects like this. Being able to work with great brands like Ford and Subaru was incredible, and building great projects like the Hoonicorn was really a wild experience, but then stepping into the future with an incredible brand like Audi was awesome.

Audi was willing to risk things and come up with some really unique and quite dynamic projects around electric cars like the S1 Hoonitron they built me ​​and it was just incredibly cool. I mean, Audi is the brand that made me like rallies when I was younger. Now I work with them and they build me amazing cars and I get to do these incredible film projects with them like ELECTRIKANHA in Vegas.

It’s more than a dream come true at this point. It’s really incredible to also be at the forefront of electric car technology development and the development of cool products all around is just wild. There aren’t very many performance EVs out there, especially one-off prototypes like the Hoonitron, so it was amazing that they would build me this car and then work with us to develop it to really work the way I do never experienced with other cars.

Q: How did the Audi connection come about?

KB: My business partner in Hoonigan, Brian Scotto, is a total Audi nerd and has had many Audis over the years. He has been working with them for several years now and when my contract with Ford expired he mentioned the possibility of working with us. It took a few years to put it all together, it’s not something that happened overnight. Everything really aligned with Audi wanting to push its performance message in the EV space. They saw us as a great way to deliver a very different message than the other EV brands on the market. We have a very distinct audience with Hoonigan and I have a very large following with what I do with rally, gymkhana and rallycross, so combining all of that with some very great performance products was something that Audi really likes. We put together a great program that worked well for both of us and it was really fun.

Q: The Audi S1 ​​e-tron quattro Hoonitron was heavily influenced by the Audi Sport Quattro S1 Group B rally car driven by the great 1980 and 1982 World Rally Champion Walter Röhrl at the 1987 Pikes Peak in Colorado. can you talk about it

KB: Absolutely. Back in the 1980s, rallying didn’t get a lot of attention in America, so actually seeing it as a kid and being influenced by it is really cool for me. Watch things like ABC’s Wide World of Sports and keep abreast of the development of Audi’s all-wheel drive system in magazines car and driver magazine and engine trend really influenced me. When Audi came to the States and raced at Pikes Peak, they won with the four-wheel drive systems developed in the 1987 World Rally Championship with the Quattro S1 Pikes Peak. It was just one of my favorite cars in the world for a really, really long time – basically since I saw it as a kid. Now later in my life working with Audi after becoming a rally driver and having a lot of success and joy with that career is all just a carrot of sorts, on top of the opportunity to experience and work with such great companies during this time career.

Man, I met Hans Stuck and Walter Röhrl and all these heroes of mine that influenced me a lot when I was growing up. Now to be able to drive some of their vehicles and even have the current Gymkhana designed by Audi’s design center has just been an incredible journey and I have to thank the amazing people and company at Audi for wanting to be it involved in me and my company.

Q: How do you see automotive electric mobility and the future?

KB: As a racer, I just want things that let me go fast and win. I see the EV revolution as a very unique and interesting thing. A lot of people just complain about the lack of noise but I enjoy developing 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’s been a lot of fun working with a company like Audi and helping to develop some of the systems and programming and ideas around things that you can do with an all wheel drive vehicle like this. It was just really cool. It’s an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. I love working on new developments and thinking things differently and the idea of ​​developing a Gymkhana car from scratch with an incredible company like Audi is an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.

Q: A recent quote from Ken Block that I’d like to share with you: “Electromobility is the future.” Is that how you see things?

KB: Yes, I mean, electric motors have been around for ages, but getting them to work for mobility like this hasn’t really been as accessible as it has been for the past five years. It really needs a push from the public saying, “Hey, that’s something we want!” That really helped push manufacturers to come up with some great new technologies.

It’s by no means perfect. Do not get me wrong. I don’t think we’re anywhere near as good as it can be. But for me it’s really fun to be a part of this development and to see where this can lead and now see some benefits. There are things I can do with this Hoonitron that I just can’t do with my other cars, you know? I’m not limited by a gearbox, I’m not limited by the fact that you can’t go 50mph forward and backward in a regular car, but I can in an electric car! So, it’s cool stuff like this that just opens up different possibilities that are very interesting to me.

I’m all for progress and developing new things that make life better. If I can help in any way by making a little tire smoke to hopefully lighten things up and find more ways to improve mobility, I’m up for it.

Q: All of this can potentially have a profound impact on the automotive and aftermarket industry, right?

KB: I hope so. I think for auto racing and motocross and bike racing there is still a way out until there is a perfect one for all of this. However, if we don’t try and pressure the manufacturers, we’re going to kind of stagnate with what we’ve been doing for decades and decades. You see things like Nitro Rallycross and Audi developing new electric vehicles that perform really well. There are places where EV technology can really make a difference and make the vehicle really capable. Just finding these right ways, finding the right technologies and developing all the platforms is a lot of work and for me it was very cool to work with Audi to start from scratch on the development of this quattro system and its possibilities. We’re actually exceeding expectations where I thought we were going to be.

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