- Keith Hamm, Action Sports
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This year's X Games RallyCross silver medalist Ken Block was still in diapers when Steve McQueen ravaged the streets of San Francisco in a high-performance Ford for the big-screen classic "Bullitt." Now, 44 years later, there has been a reunion of sorts for the iconic U.S. car company and those steep-and-narrow streets. But this time, it's Block behind the wheel.
Behind the Scenes of Gymkhana 5
Ken Block showed the streets of San Francisco a good time, and then some, in his latest Gymkhana video. Photo gallery
To witness that screaming, smoking three-way between man, car and road, a couple hundred mostly well-groomed guests filled The Mixing Room at the JW Marriott during X Games weekend for the premiere of "Gymkhana FIVE."
The 10-minute video, live at the DC Shoes Film YouTube site and presented above, is Block's latest translation of a growing motorsports discipline in which drivers negotiate complex, obstacle-filled courses with drifting, spins, reversals and other advanced driving skills.
Just before the house lights dropped, industry guests paused from their open-bar refreshments and complimentary prime rib as Block climbed the stage to distill his gymkhana track record.
"I am truly a lucky b------," he told the crowd. "I get to drive these cars as hard as I f------ can."
Shot in four days in May, "Gymkhana FIVE" showcases Block maneuvering his 650-horsepower 2012 Ford Fiesta through San Francisco streets that look like they were built for such high-octane antics. Even after he uses a Taylor Street apex as his personal launching pad, Block's driving -- and the production company's capture of it -- just gets better. Plus, Block's DC teammate Travis Pastrana makes an appearance, mounting his dirt bike for the first time since crushing his ankle at last year's X Games. And, yes, that's Thrasher magazine's Jake Phelps swinging the checkered flag at the top of Twin Peaks.
"Fortunately, we were able to work with [producer Scott Allen] Logan to get all the permits from the city to do what we wanted to do," Block told ESPN.com after the screening. "The city of San Francisco welcomed us up there, and they were really great to work with. It was really a dream come true."
Each video in the Gymkhana series has its high point, starting off with 2008's "DC Shoes: Ken Block Gymkhana Practice," which only came about after a rally series got canceled and Block had no place to race his newly built car. So he made some gymkhana lemonade out of lemons and served it up online.
A year later, that viral video spawned "Gymkhana TWO: The Infomercial!" promising "nonstop motorsport eye-candy" in a 566-horsepower 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX STI. Cue up more threaded needles, smoking tires and screaming RPMS, and throw in a cameo by a paintball rifle-wielding Rob Dyrdek.
Promoted as a "blatant but cleverly crafted marketing scheme," "Gymkhana THREE: The Music Video Informercial" hypes up rappers and hotties before cutting to the chase: Block takes over an oval speedway with banked turns pitched at 51 degrees.
Last summer, "Gymkhana FOUR: The Hollywood Megamercial" ran its course in the back lots of Universal Studios, with "Zombieland" director Ben Conrad calling the creative shots. "Gym FOUR" seems over the top by design, with all those pyrotechnics and fake brick walls nearly upstaging Block's work at the helm of a 650-horsepower 2011 Ford Fiesta capable of running 0-60 mph in just less than 2 seconds.
Fortunately, "Gym FIVE" brings the series back to basics: man, car, road. And blessed with glorious weather on the Bay and the city streets roped-off for his personal use, Block can just smash the pedal to the metal and let his driving speak for itself.
Steve McQueen would be proud.
7dBob Pockrass and John Oreovicz