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The Gymkhana Files: Episode 2—“The Motor City” Review

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Ken Block

When The Gymkhana Files, Amazon Prime’s new docuseries on the making of Gymkhana Ten, opened, we were thrust into the world of a Ken Block viral video: countless hours of planning, dozens of crew members, stunts that get bigger and bigger, and of course, Block at the center of it. The first episode, profiling the making of Climbkhana, is a look at what happens when everything goes right, culminating in Block’s death-defying slide around Pikes Peak’s “Evo Corner” and the resulting eight-figure viewership on the internet.

The second episode, which takes us to Detroit, shows us what happens when things don’t go to plan.

No, there’s no catastrophic car fire, no giant wreck, no injury or loss of life (thankfully). But there is an exceptionally cool trick involving Interstate 75 that doesn’t come together, and no matter how epic the other shots from “The Motor City” might have been, it’s clear that nobody is ready to move on from the one that got away when the 39-minute episode wraps up.

Fans of the older Gymkhana videos can take heart: the concepts that the Hoonigan crew have brought to Detroit for this year’s clip are rooted in a concept that they first brought to the city eight years ago. “To me, you can’t show this place without the urban decay,” Block explains of the original pitch, though from his tone he’s clearly speaking fondly about the city’s history and ongoing redemption arc. “But they didn’t want to show it at all.”

It’s unclear how much of that urban decay we’ll actually get in Gymkhana Ten, as most of the stunts we see in “The Motor City” are either done around landmarks or in perfectly normal city environments. Their weapon of choice is the Hoonicorn V2, boosted by 600 horsepower with twin turbos and methanol from its (pictured) Gymkhana Seven appearance thanks to the requirements needed to get it up the mountain for Climbkhana. “It’s a drag car, and he does corners in it,” explains shop manager Forest Duplessis.

The traditional Segway trick, with director Brian Scotto the willing second participant as Block does donuts around him, makes a return. There’s a wild drift around the iconic American Coney Island storefront that sees Block make a perfect W in the street, and donuts around the Monument to Joe Louis (also known as “The Fist”). It may not be closing down San Francisco’s Bay Bridge as they did in Gymkhana Five, but it’s another example of just how coveted a Ken Block appearance is—he’s able to shoot anywhere he wants.

Still, the ghosts of videos past haunt everything that the crew has planned, in one way or another. The whole introduction to the episode features Block, Scotto, and brand director Matt Tuccillo discussing how to possibly top their older work. “We set a bar so high ten years ago, and we’ve been chasing that bar,” Scotto explains. “It’s easy to do two movies—how do you do 10?”

Block, meanwhile, continues to be a lot more reluctant and even vulnerable than you might expect from a man who’s made a living off of doing these clips without suffering a major incident while filming them. Early on, he discusses an MRI process on a lingering shoulder injury that he can’t complete due to physical revulsion to the confined space. He’s immediately reluctant about the grand finale planned for Detroit: getting kicked up onto the 25-degree concrete banks of Interstate 75. The Block we’ve seen in The Gymkhana Files so far might be motorsport’s best answer to Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon series: he never says it outright, but there are times he gives off a “too old for this shit” vibe—but he’s still willing to do it anyway.

In this case, though, he doesn’t have to. Thanks to a miscommunication, the original ramp built on I-75 looks more like a deck extension than the relatively small kicker he’ll need to perform the trick. While the crew maximizes its time around weather issues that have plagued the entire shoot, the new ramp is built to the proper specs. But incoming rain, a 3PM hard stop to shooting, and the end of their scheduled time in Detroit mean it won’t happen.

For a crew that seems to have so much fun on the set of these films, the downer ending to “The Motor City” is almost jarring. Sure, disappointment might happen at the race track (Block has contended for a number of championships without sealing the deal), but it’s not supposed to with Gymkhana. It was frustrating enough when Block clipped a curb multiple times on what looked like an easy drift shot, but not even getting a chance for a home run shot sucks the wind out of everyone’s sails.

Even as Scotto and Tuccillo explain that the ramp shot was always supposed to be a bonus, it’s clear that nobody’s talked themselves into that fact just yet. And for those of us who are watching and have never been a part of a Gymkhana video yet, this may be our first glimpse at an idea that wound up just out of reach for Block and company. (Can you imagine what that list might look like?)

One location down, four to go. Tuccillo explains that the disappointment in Detroit was the beginning of rising tensions between Block and Scotto, so we’ll have to see if that expands in next week’s episodes.

The Gymkhana Files can be seen on Amazon Prime.

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