The Silver Lining to Hoonigan's Tricky NEFR Weekend
For the second American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National round in a row, Ken Block’s Subaru WRX STI failed to make it through all of the rally’s special stages.
Naturally then, the Head Hoonigan in Charge was quick to admit that his retirement from the New England Forest Rally was “really disappointing” – particularly considering the trials and tribulations Block has faced in the northeast over the years.
“Unfortunately I’ve had a lot of good runs at this rally, but it’s also been one of the most traumatic rallies I’ve ever dealt with in my career from my first big ain’t care moment clipping a log in 2006 to the Cossie rolling and burning to the ground here,” he told DirtFish.
“I’ve only won it once and it looked like this year might be a good chance for me to win it again but just [on] stage eight, the gearbox just broke.”
Block had been the closest to early rally leader Barry McKenna, just 14.1 seconds behind before they both ran into trouble.
McKenna punctured and then hit a mechanical problem, while Block’s Vermont SportsCar-built Subaru came to a standstill with its gearbox crying enough.
The really frustrating part was, despite not winning a single stage across the seven that he managed to complete at full rally speed, Block was really starting to feel at one with the car on his third appearance behind the wheel.
“The team, Alex [Gelsomino, co-driver], everybody put in a huge effort,” he said.
“The car was finally feeling really comfortable for me, it’s taken three events but we’ve finally got to the point where I’m really comfortable with it and was able to put in some really good times which is why I was sitting where I was sitting.
“It’s really disappointing for it to end this way.”
The Hoonigans don’t do downbeat, but in most circumstances you’d have anticipated Block to be at his lowest following this setback. His hopes of a maiden US rallying title are already complicated with him missing two rounds, but this second non-score in succession was the nail in the coffin of any aspirations he may have had.
But NEFR was different. Jax Redline was in town driving Block’s Ford Escort Cossie V2, and the 16-year-old off-road racer’s impressive rate of development on what was his first-ever stage rally sweetened the pill for Block.
Block is working closely with Redline this season as the pair will compete in the famous Baja 1000 event in November alongside 2019 winner Alan Ampudia. But as part of that arrangement, Block agreed to give Redline his rallying debut in Maine, and although the result went begging, Redline impressed his tutor.
“The kid’s 16 years old!,” Block reiterated. “The amount of maturity and experience and driving ability he has is really quite impressive.”
Redline was slow off the mark as he adapted to a very different discipline to what he’s used to, but his talent was soon evident.
A collection of seventh-fastest times propelled him into that position overnight before a mistake cost him half an hour and then the transmission on the Cossie began to let go.
“We were pushing hard trying to keep up, make a couple positions up and had a little mistake,” Redline explained to DirtFish.
“Just coming in from a really hot section down into a four-left tightens, missed the tightens, went off a little bit and into some small trees. Didn’t hurt the car too bad, just cosmetic stuff but we were able to keep going, ended up getting stuck [and] got some help from some guys out there.
“Kept going, got about two or three more stages done and then started losing the transmission a gear at a time and ended up on the third stage of the day, lost the trans completely, stopped, got the truck to come and get us and that’s where our day ended.”
It was well and truly a lesson learned for the teenager, and the mistake was potentially the result of him relying on the skills he adopts in his regular off-road racing.
“Going from having to be fractions of a second perfect in every corner to be able to compete it’s a big difference, so I missed that tightens trying to keep up with the full speed and mistakes like that end up costing you your day,” Redline said.
Block was very encouraged with what he saw, even if his Cossie V2 will be returning to Utah not quite in full health.
“To come into a rally like this, one of the hardest in our championship and just get thrown in there, ‘here’s a quick car, go for it’, he did really well,” said Block.
“[He] had a little bit of an error yesterday with not turning the anti-lag on one stage and started consistent, built up speed, had a couple of sevenths overall – I mean that’s very good, just handled everything very maturely.
“He had a couple of errors today that are just typical rally stuff and it is what it is, some notes he knows that he needs to change but it’s the first time he wrote notes and drove to them so for him to be sitting where he was sitting last night I was certainly impressed.
“Certainly [I was] impressed with the kid anyway but then to come out and drive the Cossie and do so well, he damaged it a little bit today but all that’s repairable, but all good learning experience and I just continue to be stoked on working with the kid and impressed by him.”
Redline enjoyed his experience, despite the mishap, and added he really liked “how complicated the notes are”, and was amazed “how you can actually know exactly what is coming up through this piece of paper that has so many notes on it”.
The fascination was so strong that he told DirtFish he “definitely” wants to make another go of rallying.
“I had a really great time, and I want to figure out how to come back for sure,” Redline said. Every so often the silver lining must be drawn from a situation. Jax Redline was more than a silver lining for Hoonigan at New England Forest Rally, he was a bit of a savior; a distraction from what was otherwise a gut-wrenching result for the #43 Subaru.
Disappointing as Block’s result may have been given how strong his pace was, he can be more than pleased to have introduced the world to another future star and potentially have made a keen rally driver out of him too.