Ken Block Tells Us What Went Wrong With His Hoonipigasus Porsche at Pikes Peak

The mountain is your adversary, sure, but sometimes so is your car. 

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Ken Block Tells Us What Went Wrong With His Hoonipigasus Porsche at Pikes Peak © Ken Block Tells Us What Went Wrong With His Hoonipigasus Porsche at Pikes Peak

Ken Block’s mid-engine Porsche 911 dubbed Hoonipigasus was unveiled a few weeks ago with the aim of taking on the 100th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The car, if you can call it that, is the brainchild of Betim Berisha of BBi Autosport; Joe Scarbo, who conceived the protonightmare (SV RSR) the Hoonipig’s based on; and Block. The result is an all-wheel-drive, 1,400-horsepower, meth-breathing, heavy downforce—a first for Block—race car. They made it to the mountain, but during practice on Thursday, the engine gave out, and his attempt to go sub-8 minutes—set by Romain Dumas in the VW ID.R—was over before it began. 

There was a lot of lead-up to running the Hoonipig at Pikes. That included the splashy public debut of the car in southern California, the final assembly of the car (the one at the launch didn’t have an engine), and its first shakedown practice to break in the engine. Based on initial outings with the car at Pueblo Motorsports Park in Colorado nearly a month before the race, everything seemed to look good. As did its first practice last week.

Pikes, however, is a different animal than most other races. It’s often referred to as a battle between the driver and the mountain itself, but the car’s endurance is always a concern. Because of the mountain’s harsh conditions—the start line sits at 6,300 feet above sea level and climbs 12.42 miles to an oxygen-starved 14,050 feet through forests and an alpine desert—the mechanical specifications and tolerances you need to make it to its peak are incredible. The Hoonipigasus is no different, but because it was squarely aimed at setting an overall record, those tolerances were even thinner and the specs far wilder than the average competitor. 

To find out what exactly happened with the would-be Hoonigan King of the Mountain, as well as what goes through a competitor’s head when all that preparation and pent-up nervousness are shut down right before competing, we got ahold of Ken Block himself to give the inside story. 

The Drive: What exactly went wrong with the engine, and do you know the cause of the malfunction?

Ken Block: We had a cylinder basically go. It had to do with the valves and then the cylinder wall got damaged. You can ask Betim who has [laughs] more knowledge of engines and what happened. I can only give you the basics on that. But it just got damaged to the point where we just didn't have enough time to fix it for my qualifying run on Thursday. So that was the whole issue. We just had a very short time frame and we just couldn't get it fixed in time.

TD: Can you save anything from it? 

KB: Absolutely. The block was damaged, but whether or not the block can be fixed, that's a question beyond me. But all the rest of the parts, all the rest of the cylinders were fine, that was just the issue.

The Drive: What does it feel like to prepare yourself for the mountain and then have to unfortunately not run? How have you calmed your nerves and mind after that lead-up?

Ken Block: [Laughs] Well, that's a good question. It's very difficult to do all the preparation that we've done and basically have to turn it all off. It is what it is, but I've dealt with mechanical failures throughout my career. It's just a part of racing. But this one happens to be a big one because of all the time and preparation that go into an event like this. All the training, all the testing, everything. Then to have a major mechanical issue like an engine go is really quite disappointing. But again, it is what it is, we have to accept that it's part of the deal, but I really wanted to run this year. Looks like we'll just have to wait until next year.

TD: Walk me through why, after all these years, you wanted to switch to tarmac in a 1,400 horsepower, heavy downforce, low-weight car, at a place where the limits are practically nonexistent? 

KB: You know, I've raced gravel most of my career, but I have done a bunch of tarmac stuff. WRC around the world, the Donegal Rally in Ireland, and all the Gymkhana stuff I've done. I do have a lot of experience on tarmac, but really the Pikes Peak race course is really like a rally stage. The difference is that it ends at 14,000 feet and I don't have a co-driver. But the way that I memorize roads, the way that you attack this sort of road, to me, it's just like a rally stage. The length of it, 12.4 miles, that's a rally road, so I look at it just like doing a stage in a rally. I've even gone up the mountain and to memorize it in my brain, I did it like a rally stage where I went up with a co-driver, did multiple runs, written the notes, and modified the notes. And so that worked really well for me to memorize the course. I think it's a very unique situation and it's an incredible race, I really love the challenge of applying my skills as a rally driver to such a challenging race.

TD: What was your training like to get ready for the car and physically prepare to go sub-8 minutes?

KB: Well, the thing of it is, it's all about the car. I can only do what the car is capable of. So that all involves the testing and development before getting the car here. And then myself physically, I already live at 7,000 feet, so to prepare to race at this elevation, where it starts at 9,000 and goes up to 14,000, that takes preparation all on its own too. There's a who package of ways that you have to prepare for a race like this, which is really quite unique. I love the whole challenge of it, and that's why it's so disappointing not to be racing this year as we've done all that development and preparation to race and not get to race.

TD: I know you incorporated “Just Don’t Die” into your Trouble Andrew livery, but what was that conversation like with your wife, Lucy?

KB: Yeah [laughs]. She's very knowledgeable about what I do and how I race and where I go. And she races rally herself, so she knows the dangers too, but she doesn't like this mountain. When I came back for Climbkhana and I showed her the shots off Evo Corner, she was not happy about that at all. So when I told her I had the opportunity to race here, the conversation was "Please, just don't die." But that to me is sorta a celebration of life, because I have a wife and kids, and they are very concerned. We all accept the concept that things can go wrong at any point though, we just have to be smart about how we do it. I look at the "Just Don't Die" thing as a "good luck" or "break a leg" type thing. It's meant to acknowledge the danger, but do it in a smart way to come home to my family.

TD: You’ve already said you’ll be back for the 101st running next year, but what’s the plan for the car in the interim? Is there a plan, or is Betim, Joe, and the crew just going to tinker for the next year? 

KB: Well, I mean, it's an amazing car, it's been a great project, and we want to do more with it. But we now have a year of development time to come back stronger and better than we were. So we're actually kind of grateful, to look at it in a positive way, grateful to have this time to really come back even stronger. But in the meantime, yeah, we'll have to figure out some fun stuff to go do with it. You know, Brian Scotto (Hoonigan's Chief Creative Officer) and I are already talking about what we can go do with it. So yeah, it's just a matter of what fits into the game plan.

TD: What’s next for you?

KB: Good question. Well, right now I'm racing in the American Rally Association and we're halfway through the series. Won the last two events. Travis Pastrana leads the championship, but I've got the momentum. Our next event is in New England in three weeks, so my focus coming out of this weekend is to go back and focus on rally. I'm racing an amazing Hyundai rally car this year.

TD: The WRC car.

KB: Yeah, so my target is to win that championship. Going into New England, that's a strong event for me. I was leading it last year until the Subura I was racing broke, so I'm looking forward to going back to the event and putting in a good race. That's what's next for me, but I'm also keeping on developing with my daughter [Lia]. She's 15 years old and she's racing in the same series as me, but in a two-wheel-drive car. She actually got on the national podium in the last race, but development with her is going amazing, so we'll continue to work on her skills, too. Some really positive stuff this year with rally and pushing like hell to win championships.

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