KEN Block: a man responsible for burning more rubber than the Springfield Tire Yard and, with 250 million views of his Gymkhana videos, generating many times more YouTube hits than Keyboard Cat. He is also almost certainly more responsible than anyone else for the Googling of “gymkhana definition”.
This week saw the release of Gymkhana 6, in which the American rally star teams up with the Need for Speed computer game series for some video game-related jumps, stunts, drifts and inch-perfect donuts. It may now include two Lamborghini Aventadors and spiked wrecking balls, but is it better than the previous Gymkhana, set in San Francisco? Or the fourth, in which Ken blasts his bespoke Ford Fiesta rally car through a film studio? Or the original breakthrough video from 1998, for that matter?
Never fear, for Driving has selflessly rewatched all the videos and assembles them here in reverse order of greatness. Some viewers may have their own running order, but they’d be wrong.
For our judging criteria, we looked for a number of key elements, including: dramatic backdrops, dramatic stunts, top production qualities and the usual sense of humour. We considered deducting points for commercialism but decided simply to overlook the advertising, since it pays for the videos in the first place.
6 Ken Block’s Gymkhana Practice
Published November 11, 2008 | Views to date 14.2m
- Backdrop 2/10
- Stunts 6/10
- Production 4/10
- Humour 2/10
- VERDICT 3.5/10
The original may be at the bottom of our list but it’s a hugely impressive video that set the bar for the following Gymkhana videos. The set pieces are impressive, mainly for the speed and aggression of execution rather than originality, and there aren’t a huge amount of laughs, although this first video does introduce us to what became an amusing mainstay of the series – donutting around a Segway rider.
Block’s first car was a 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STI, the quintessential boy racer-mobile, and it sounds and looks very fierce indeed.
5 Need for Speed and Ken Block present Gymkhana Six: The Ultimate Gymkhana Grid Course
Published November 11, 2013 | Views to date 8.4m
- Backdrop 4/10
- Stunts 6/10
- Production 8/10
- Humour 3/10
- VERDICT 5.25/10
The most recent video, posted to YouTube exactly five years after the first Gymkhana Practice video, sees Ken team up with computer game series Need for Speed in an effort to create the ultimate grid course. While still impressive technically, and displaying some originality (blasting through containers only just wide enough for his 650bhp Ford Fiesta ST RX43, for example), the abandoned airfield setting isn’t that inspiring – especially compared with some videos higher up in our list.
What have definitely improved over time are the camera tricks, with bird’s eye views, panning roof-mounted shots, a view from the perspective of the handbrake and a neat reference to the video game tie-in with a shot from just behind and above the rear of the car – a view that will be familiar to gamers. It’s just a shame some of that originality didn’t filter down into the stunts.
4 Ken Block’s Gymkhana Three, Part 2: The Ultimate Playground
Published September 14, 2010 | Views to date 54m
- Backdrop 7/10
- Stunts 8/10
- Production 6/10
- Humour 4/10
- VERDICT 6.25/10
Gymkhana 3 was filmed at l’Autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry, France, a 1.58-mile oval track built in 1924 that features Brooklands-style banking as steep as 51 degrees – more than twice the incline of most Nascar ovals. This provides for some pretty extraordinary and unique stunts, and the introduction of water to the road surface makes for one of the most impressive series of four 360-degree (1,440-degree?) spins you’ll ever see.
Other highlights include impossibly tight manoeuvres within boxes that look only just about wide enough to fit the Ford Fiesta, and the total destruction of the tyres at the end of the film. It’s a furiously executed video that has all the intensity of the original Gymkhana… but with smarter set-pieces.
3 Ken Block’s Gymkhana Two: The Infomercial
Published June 1, 2009 | Views to date 42.3m
- Backdrop 6/10
- Stunts 8/10
- Production 7/10
- Humour 8/10
- VERDICT 7.25/10
The absolute honesty of this video has to be admired. With new sponsor DC Shoes on board to ramp up the production values for Block’s second Gymkhana video, the clothing manufacturer decided to be completely up front about the fact that its goal was to sell merchandise… the amazing car stunts are merely a way to get us mugs to buy its wares.
But that’s not to say this video is lacking in jaw-dropping set-pieces. New, super slow-motion shots capture paint-filled water bombs being knocked out of dummies’ hands, floor-mounted strip lights explode under the weight of Block’s drifting 2009 Subaru WRX STI and there’s a heart-in-mouth moment as the car comes within an inch of dropping into the harbour. Some stylish invention in the form of a paintballing adversary and a fiery finale all add to the impressive spectacle, and there’s some effortlessly cool humour sprinkled liberally throughout. Stay for the end-credit outtakes.
2 Ken Block’s Gymkhana Five: Ultimate Urban Playground; San Francisco
Published July 9, 2012 | Views to date 54.7m
- Backdrop 10/10
- Stunts 9/10
- Production 8/10
- Humour 5/10
- VERDICT 8/10
Not even Steve McQueen, star of Bullitt, has attacked the streets of San Francisco with this much vigour. Gymkhana Five easily tops this list for location with its unprecedented and frankly jaw-dropping access to the road network of this instantly recognisable city. From the opening shot of Block’s Fiesta powering over the Oakland Bay Bridge, to the huge jumps over the infamously hilly city centre streets, this is one Gymkhana that will make you rub your eyes in disbelief.
A stand-out shot of an airborne drift is a highlight but the nicely judged cameo by world-famous American biker Travis Pastrana, and the inevitable appearance of San Francisco’s street cars, are icing on the cake. There could have been some more humour in there but in terms of scale, this one is pretty untouchable.
1 Ken Block’s Gymkhana 4: The Hollywood Megamercial
Published August 16, 2011 | Views to date 25m
- Backdrop 9/10
- Stunts 8/10
- Production 10/10
- Humour 9/10
- VERDICT 9/10
With the full weight of Hollywood behind it, this was destined to be a cracker. Filmed over five days at Universal Studios, California, with director Ben Conrad (of Zombieland fame) and edited with all the explosive power of a Michael Bay movie, Gymkhana Four is a visual feast packed with jokes, computer-enhanced imagery, spectacular slow-mos and, of course, the usual mind-blowing driving from Block.
Featuring Jaws, zombies and a Segway-riding gorilla, along with an hilarious cameo by some guys we’ve never heard of (Epic Meal Time, anyone?), the mix of Hollywood and Gymkhana is a match made in heaven.
Gymkhana 2.1 (featuring Rob Dyrdek)
This is what happens when you marry MTV and Gymkhana. The most hilarious, but also the scariest video Block has produced.
Gymkhana 3 music video (featuring the Cool Kids)
A catchy tune and some music video-quality visuals make this a very watchable bonus feature.
Ken Block goes radio controlled
A brilliant homage to the Gymkhana series, but in miniature.
Driving goes for a ride with Ken Block at Top Gear Live
What happened when we climbed aboard the good ship Block. Sick bags at the ready.