The Gymkhana Files: Episode 5—“It Is What It Is” Review

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

Finally, for the first time since its opening episode, The Gymkhana Files wraps an episode with a glimmer of hope for Ken Block and company: the Hoonitruck makes its proper debut to the video series after only appearing in snippets of the first half of the series.

Of course, we get dragged through the team’s private hell, yet again, to get there.

“It Is What It Is” returns us to Block’s 2017 FIA World Rallycross Championship endeavor, the culmination of two frustrating years of competition with the Ford Focus RSRX. He has to finally inform the team that they won’t be returning to action in 2018. Block pitched the idea of remaining as team boss and fielding two cars for Andreas Bakkerud and another driver, but Ford eventually passed on the plan.

Bakkerud, one of the world’s most talented drivers whose career has nonetheless seen him bounce around the paddock repeatedly, takes it the hardest. In the snippet of his popular video blog shown in the episode, his eyes are clearly red from crying, and he’s still in the trailer when Block informs the rest of the team. The Norwegian driver isn’t the focus of the series, but even knowing that he landed another ride for 2018, it’s hard not to feel the sting of that announcement a second time—especially if you’re a close follower of the sport, as World RX faces its own general reckoning right now.

After hinting at it through the early stages of the series, “It It What It Is” offers an unflinching, head-on acknowledgment of Block’s age. At the time of filming, Block was 49, going on 50; a few days after the first episode of The Gymkhana Files premiered, he turned 51. Brand director Matt Tuccillo bluntly rags on Block’s age a bit, while Block’s wife Lucy talks about their kids not wanting to travel. She even admits that, while she never would’ve stopped him, she would’ve preferred him not to take on the World RX gig at all.

It’s an important reminder that racecar drivers, no matter how invincible they seem, are humans, with the same desires and goals as the rest of us who live “normal” lives. They sacrifice time with their families, weeks and months away from their spouses and children, to entertain us. We see the family making food at home in Park City, Utah, but even then, Block is distracted, looking at Gymkhana 10 documents on his computer. It almost feels like we’re building up to a series finale where he tells us all that he’s hanging up the helmet.

And after seeing how South Africa, Block’s final World RX event, went, it’d be hard to blame him. After leading the intermediate standings, Block wins his semifinal to qualify for the main event. But with significant portions of bodywork missing, the car comes in underweight. The team thrashes to prepare the car for the final in under ten minutes, but are never called to the grid, and that’s that.

The team’s time in World RX comes to an end with a group photo. “Smile like you got shafted in the final,” somebody jokes. People aren’t really laughing. Can you blame them?

Elsewhere, though, preparations for the next stages of Gymkhana 10 are ramping up. Determined to learn from the disastrous Los Angeles shoot, director Brian Scotto heads to Lulea, Sweden early for a location scout, while Tuccillo travels to Mooresville, North Carolina to check out the early stages of the Hoonitruck build, codenamed “Uncle Jesse” after the Ford F-150 used by the character in The Dukes of Hazzard. It’s Tuccillo’s enthusiasm in the latter that really seems to indicate the turning point in the series is about to come; he immediately identifies is as his “new favorite toy that Ken has.”

After returning from South Africa, Block celebrates his 50th birthday by trying out the still-naked, still-nameless Hoonitruck for the first time in North Carolina. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for: the first proper look at how the F-150 slays tires. And slay it does.

Running a motorsport program, whether a racing one like Block’s World RX endeavor or for show like the Gymkhana series, may be a lot of hard work, but it’s supposed to be fun too. Sometimes, all you need to put the fun back in it is a new toy. And after the first half of The Gymkhana Files, everybody seems to be ready to get back to the fun.

The Gymkhana Files can be seen on Amazon Prime.

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