Rhys Yates and six-time British Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy will both hire and drive Hyundai i20 R5s at Gymkhana GRiD in Warsaw, Poland on Saturday.
Before discussing GRiD – the brainchild of Monster Energy-backed American internet sensation Ken Block – Rhys talked about the potential to work close to one of the world’s greatest cyclists and athletes.
“Everybody knows about Sir Chris Hoy,” said Rhys. “I’ve been one of the millions of Brits on the other side of the TV supporting him as he powered off the bend in Beijing or London to another Olympic gold medal.
“With both of us hiring Hyundais for the event, we’ll be running them out of the same [service] area. The chance to share set-up information and work a little bit with an elite athlete who has made a successful transition to motorsport is really special for me.
“Too often these days, we talk about legends – but Sir Chris Hoy fits that description perfectly. Much as he’s known for what he’s done on a bike, he’s competed at Le Mans and [Britain’s first World Rally Champion, fellow Scot] Colin McRae is one of his heroes. I think we’re going to get on fine!”
The 27-year-old Chesterfield driver, Britain’s only full-time competitor in the prestigious World Rally Championship WRC 2 category, admits this week will be a step into the unknown.
He added: “I’ve never competed at Gymkhana GRiD before, never been to Poland and never driven a Hyundai in competition. It’s going to be an interesting week…”
Rhys Q&A on the week ahead:
What is Gymkhana GRiD?
RY: “It’s one of the coolest forms of motorsport and certainly one that’s growing incredibly quickly right now. Basically we drive through a course completing a series of 360-degree spins, drifts and donuts. The course is usually in an arena where we compete head-to-head with another driver.
“Think Gymkhana with horses and you’re on the right lines. Except we go a lot faster and use the handbrake a lot more.”
Where did it come from?
RY: “Ken Block. I talked earlier about legends and Ken Block is a legend of the internet and motorsport world. His Gymkhana videos have been watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world and they’re just insane.
“This is the guy who closed the streets of San Francisco and drove through dried-up riverbeds in LA to pull off some of the most entertaining and outrageous video sequences ever filmed with a car. Watch his last film, it’s just incredible what he does, he’s an innovator in terms of motorsport and entertainment.
“And Gymkhana GRiD is the competitive form of that. We’ll be pulling similar moves and working the car in the same sort of way he does. We do it against the clock and against a rival.
“I’ve fancied a shot at this for a long time; it’s pretty out there with Ken Block and Monster Energy behind it. It’s just cool.”
How do you win?
RY: “Simple: by completing the course quicker than anybody else. But accuracy is hugely important as well – if I hit any of the obstacles then there’s a time penalty.”
Can you win?
RY: “Honestly… I don’t know. There’s some serious competition out there: apart from my team-mate Sir Chris Hoy there’s the Solberg dynasty to contend with Petter and his son Oliver at the event.
“Put it this way, I’ve knocked the flight back until Monday, so I’m planning for some celebrations! I’m competitive in everything I do – even if it’s just six-a-side footie, I’m only having fun if I’m playing to win. I’d love to make the final. Let’s see.”
And what about the car?
RY: “Like the event, the Hyundai i20 R5 is a new experience for me. I tested the car in Wales earlier this year and I was really impressed. That test was on a typically fast, flowing gravel rally stages – very different conditions to the tight, twisty Tarmac venue we’ll be using in Warsaw this week.
“I’m hoping to get a test out in Poland on Wednesday. Even if it’s just a quick run out on Tarmac, it would help give me an idea of what to expect in terms of things like the grip. And it’ll remind me where the handbrake is – I expect I’ll be using that a fair bit this week.”
RY:“I wouldn’t say nervous, just a little bit unsure of what to expect. To be honest, I’m going out there to have some fun and once I get my eye in and start sliding around stuff, it’ll be fine. It’ll be a blast.