Even with a skill set as specific as vehicular control, there are polar opposites. At one end you have F1 drivers, who position what essentially amount to fighter jets on wheels with pin-point precision. At the other end sits the likes of Ken Block, the Gymkhana master who has wowed us all time and again by drifting his rally car sideways through the tightest of spots and in the grandest of fashion. The two may seem entirely irreconcilable, but they're about to come together for what promises to be an interesting crossover.
While visiting Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix, it was announced that Block is headed for his first drive in an F1 car this August. But rather than test, as many others have, for a specific team, Block will be the invited guest of Pirelli – the company that supplies the tires both for his rally car and for the entire F1 grid.
The drive will take place at Monza – the legendary home of the Italian Grand Prix – on August 5th. There, Block will take to the wheel of the TF109, the car which Toyota fielded in the 2009 championship before withdrawing from the series altogether, and which Pirelli now uses to test its various F1 rubber compounds.
Block says this test will "take hooning to a whole new level." Are we smelling an F1 Gymkhana video in the making? Too early to say, but we can certainly dream. Official announcement after the jump.
MONTREAL - 12 JUN 2011 16:19 UTC
'Gymkhana' legend and World Rally Championship star Ken Block will drive the Pirelli F1 test car, which has been used by the Italian company since its Formula One programme was announced in June 2010.
The car was used in competition throughout the 2009 grand prix season but it has since undergone aerodynamic and weight distribution modifications to simulate the latest Formula One regulations, which the current P Zero tyres are designed for.
Before Block takes the wheel on August 5 for a one-off drive at the famed Monza circuit in Italy, the car will already have completed two days of testing in the hands of Pirelli test driver Lucas di Grassi from Brazil, who will be assessing the latest evolutions of the PZero products for the future. Di Grassi will remain on hand to help give Block some tips and advice as he makes his Formula One debut.
The test campaign forms part of Pirelli's on-going development program this year, alongside the 18,000 kilometres of private testing that were carried out in 2010 before Pirelli embarked on its first grand prix.
Block is set to use Pirelli's softer compounds as he gets up to speed with the 700- horsepower Formula One challenger, which was a regular podium finisher two years ago. The two softest tyres in the PZero range – PZero Red (supersoft) and PZero Yellow (soft) – will give Block the grip and confidence he needs to get used to the car. In particular, these tyres reach their operating temperature of around 100 degrees centigrade in less than two laps.
Later on in the test, he should get the chance to try out the two harder compounds: PZero White (medium) and PZero Silver (hard). These tyres have a little less performance than the softer tyres, but increased durability and resistance to high temperatures – not to mention 'gymkhana' style doughnuts...
Block commented: "I've been lucky enough to do some pretty spectacular stunts in my career so far, but this is something else! Everybody talks about Formula One being the pinnacle of world motorsport so I can't wait to discover it for myself. I'm very grateful to Pirelli, which has been one of my partners since 2010, for this amazing opportunity. These cars are so specialised that I need to be realistic about what I can do, but I know that it's going to be a lot of fun and take hooning to a whole new level..."
Monza, just half an hour's drive from Pirelli's headquarters in Milan, is well known as the home of the Italian Grand Prix and it is also one of the most iconic tracks on the Formula One calendar. The very first Italian Grand Prix at Monza, in 1922, was won on Pirelli tyres and the track has had a very special significance for the Italian firm ever since.
Set in parkland to the north of Milan, Monza is also one of the quickest and most spectacular circuits of the season thanks to its combination of long straights and fast corners. In fact, nearly 80% of the 5.793-kilometre circuit is spent at full throttle. As well as the modern circuit, Monza is famous for preserving sections of the old banking as a tourist attraction, underlining the track's unique profile in motorsport history.
Pirelli's Motorsport Director Paul Hembery added: "We're absolutely delighted that Ken is making his Formula One driving debut with us, and where better than Monza? I hope that he thoroughly enjoys the experience of driving these awesome cars. We got to know Ken through our partnership with the Gymkhana programme and the World Rally Championship last year, where he impressed us with his dedicated approach, his technical feedback and his unique way of marketing the sport. We're really looking forward to finding out what he thinks about our Formula One tyres, and I'm sure that the millions of his fans around the world can't wait to see him behind the wheel of a grand prix car. Ken seems to be a person who has done more or less everything in his career up to now – so I'm very glad that we were actually able to find a new experience for him!"