Going on what we saw at the WRC launch in Paris on Tuesday, Petter ‘Hollywood’ Solberg’s position as the Championship’s leading showman could be under threat this year from WRC newbie Ken Block.

While we haven’t yet seen Block performing Petter’s trick of driving a car from the roof, this is the man who has flown a Subaru Impreza 171 feet through the air and racked up more than 50 million views for his gymkhana stunt driving videos.

As drivers gathered for the photoshoot on the Place de la Concorde in light rain and freezing cold, Block, who hails from California, stood apart from the rest of the crowd. Looking every inch a hip-hop superstar, he was the only one wearing a hoodie, sunglasses and a diamond encrusted ring the size of a golfball.

This year, after a career spent skateboarding, snowboarding, racing motocross and running DC shoes, Block is realising his childhood dream of competing in the WRC. Starting with Rally Mexico, he’ll tackle a seven round programme driving a Ford Focus RS WRC.

Post launch, and before being whisked off to a Monster World Rally Team after-party, Block talked to wrc.com about his WRC aspirations.

For more information : http://www.wrc.com

From bikes to boards to your rally career and stunt driving, you’ve done some pretty incredible things so far, how does the challenge of the WRC compare?
“This year is going to be the biggest challenge of my life. It’s a huge honour to be on the stages with the rest of the WRC guys so I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a tough year but I’m going to do the best I can.”

What are you looking forward to most about the 2010 WRC season?
“Getting to drive a World Rally Car. It’s the epitome of what a rally car should be and it’s by far the most amazing thing that I’ll ever be able to drive. I want to cover as many miles as I can in this type of car before they go away in 2011.”

What do you hope to get out of this season?
“For me this is the start of a multi-year programme. Getting into the WRC you can’t be expected to be instantly competitive – it takes years to get up to speed. My plan goes right through 2012, so I’m looking to get time in the car this year, so in 2011 and 2012 I can be more competitive.”

You’re known around the world for your gymkhana internet videos, are you planning any more this year?
“Well, we’ve always got some fun plans. I’m blessed that I get to play in the most amazing cars on the planet. In my opinion rally cars are incredible vehicles; not only to race but also to have a lot of fun with. I really enjoy the racing aspect, and that’s the basis of everything I do, but it’s also fun to go out and take the cars and do other things like jump them or slide around a bit for some gymkhana type driving. We’ll do a bit of that this year too.”

Which car will be driving in this year’s gymkhana videos?
“We’ll use a Fiesta. In fact, the Olsberg shop in Sweden is building me a new gymkhana car right now – that’s in addition to the [open class] car I’ll use this year in the American Championship. We need a specific car for gymkhana because the suspension set-up and the power band is quite different to rally. To be able to break the tyres loose like that on tarmac and then control that spin takes at least 500 to 600 horsepower and a consistent amount of low end torque.”

What do you love most about rallying?
“The bit I enjoy most is the racing. I grew up skateboarding, snowboarding and racing motocross, and 95 per cent of the time I was in those sports I was out playing or practising. It’s the opposite in rallying. We get so little test time or practise that 95 per cent of the time we’re actually competing.”

Tell me about your development as a rally driver
“I started out in rally only six or seven years ago, so my development has been very quick. I’ve pushed hard to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can. Apparently I have some natural skill, and I don’t have much of a sense of being scared in the car at speed. Now I just need to push that skill and speed and get faster and faster. I want to do that in 2010 and 2011 to become more competitive.”

Do you ever get scared?
“You know, I think if you’re not scared in the car you’re not going fast enough.”

Who has helped you get your driving to this level?
“Luckily I’ve had a great team behind me in America. John Buffum, the most successful American rally driver ever with something like 110 national wins, is someone who’s helped me out a lot. Also I’ve had other instructors like Tim O’Neil [winner of five north American rally championship titles] and David Higgins [multiple British and American rally champion] and Jari Ketomaa [P-WRC regular], so I’ve had some great people help me get where I am today.”

Why does the WRC stand out from other forms of motorsport?
“When I was growing up world rallying was what inspired me to drive a car. It just looked like the most fun. In America, the major TV sports for cars back then were ones where the cars went in circles or straight ahead, and that didn’t inspire me the way that the WRC did. Competing in the WRC has been a dream since I was a little kid. In my mind, world rally drivers are the greatest in the world. I’m very happy to be here and it’s such a huge honour to be on the stages with people like Petter, Sebastien Loeb and now Kimi Raikkonen.”

Chris Atkinson was linked to a drive with the Monster World Rally Team in 2010. Will that happen?
“We really tried to work out some deals to get him in the team this year. I really like Chris, he’s a really good guy and an amazing driver, but unfortunately the deals didn’t come together how we wanted. We’re looking to have him come out possibly for an event or two this year – we’re not really sure when or where – and then looking to have him in the team for 2011. But that’s all up to sponsors and what my agents can do with putting some deals together. We want the team to feature multiple drivers over the years, and Chris is someone I like and respect so we’re looking to try and have him as part of the team.”

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