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INTERVIEW | Timmy Hansen on almost exiting racing to becoming the World Rallycross champion at Killarney

2019-12-26 04:30

Junaid Samodien

Timmy Hansen

Image: Red Bull Content Pool

Hard work and determination paid off this year when Timmy Hansen was crowned the 2019 FIA World Rallycross Champion at the season finale in Cape Town, South Africa.

The season was filled with trials and tribulations for Team Hansen MJP who just about beat the clock to enter the 2019 World RX season after Peugeot’s withdrawal at the end of the 2018 season.

Racing in the blood

It’s never easy being a son of motorsport legends, but Timmy Hansen and younger brother Kevin Hansen take it in their stride. Timmy Hansen’s rise to stardom took a slightly different course from that of his parents – Kenneth Hansen, the most successful rallycross driver in history, with 14 European RX titles, while his mother Susann Hansen is the only women ever to have won a European title in rallycross.

READ | Andreas Bakkerud: humble beginnings, racing in Cape Town, and his ideal World RX circuit

Despite his family's firm roots in rallycross, Timmy’s motorsport career began in circuit racing with karting, where he claimed the Swedish Karting Championship in 2008 and then progressed to single-seater racing for two years where he won races in Formula BMW and Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0.

In April 2011, Timmy competed in his first-ever rallycross event in France in a borrowed Citroën Xsara Supercar. Hansen then made his first competitive rallycross debut in 2012 at the Finnish round of the FIA European Rallycross Championship where he finished in a credible fifth place.

He returned to the FIA European Rallycross Championship in 2013 in a Citroën DS3 and went on to take several podium finishes – including winning in Hungary and finishing third overall in the championship.

Timmy Hansen champ

                                                                      Image: Twitter/FIA

The Swede progressed to the FIA World Rallycross Championship in 2014 at the wheel of a Peugeot 208 WRX supercar and he claimed his maiden World RX win in Italy along with three more podium finishes to end the championship in fourth overall.

The 2015 World RX season was Hansen’s most successful year in the sport, where he claimed three wins – Norway, France, and Turkey, eventually finishing the season in second place behind Petter Solberg.

Ups and downs

In 2016, Nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb joined Timmy at Team Peugeot-Hansen. The pair claimed a win apiece and eight podium finishes. Hansen remained at Team Peugeot-Hansen in 2017 and claimed four more podium finishes on his way to fifth in the overall standings.

At the end of the 2017 season, Peugeot announced full factory support for Team Peugeot-Hansen. And, with factory support came a name change: Team Peugeot Total. In 2018, Team Peugeot Total got off to a competitive start, but later introduced an evolution of its baseline model, named: Peugeot 208 WRX Evo.

Timmy Hansen

                                                                            Image: Junaid Samodien/Slipstream SA

The new car was introduced in Sweden and immediately showed a strong pace. Timmy claimed a third-place finish in Belgium and second-place in Canada. He ended the 2018 season in sixth in the drivers' standings.

Peugeot later announced their withdrawal from the FIA World Rallycross Championship citing uncertainty surrounding the sport’s switch to electric cars, which was postponed from 2020 to 2021.

While the Hansen’s future in rallycross seemed bleak, hard work over the winter break helped the team secure the necessary funding to secure two Peugeot 208 WRX cars and an entry into the 2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship.

The 2019 season got off to a bang for Timmy who led the way through the qualifying heats in Abu Dhabi but was involved in an accident with Andreas Bakkerud who thought that the race ended a lap earlier.

His Peugeot 208 WRX suffered extensive chassis damage, but after nine days of hard labour, the car was rebuilt and on the grid in Barcelona where the Hansen brothers claimed a 1-2 finish.

Timmy claimed three more wins, in Great Britain, France, and Latvia on his way to a dramatic season finale in Cape Town, which saw Hansen and Bakkerud end on equal points and a countback of wins being the title decider.

With the added pressured of the FIA World Rallycross Championship. Timmy Hansen and younger brother Kevin competed in the Titans RX Europeans Series, as well as the Nitro Rallycross Championship, where Timmy finished second best to Kevin Hansen.

In November, this year the Hansen brothers’ announced that their driver development programme "Yellow Squad" will join the RX2 International Series in 2020, after joining forces with Team Färén.

Timmy Hansen was officially crowned the FIA World Rallycross Champion having finally received his trophy at the FIA Gala on 6 December 2019 at the Louvre museum in Paris.The Hansen family celebrates on the podium in Cape Town - Kenneth Hansen (left), Timmy and Kevin (centre) and Susann Hansen (right)

Timmy Hansen took some time out of his very busy schedule to chat with us at the Killarney International Raceway ahead of the title-deciding weekend:

Junaid Samodien: Team Hansen MJP just about beat the clock to enter the 2019 World RX championship this season. How much work went into securing an entry?

Timmy Hansen: Many hours of work went in to secure an entry, but it’s more than just hours, it was everything. My whole passion. It’s quite hard to describe all the things that we have put together and our ambitions. You don’t achieve this by working for hours. It took a lot, it really took everything that we had, but we are here.

JS: Many drivers worldwide race for manufacturers or international teams, but not many have ever raced in there own team or let’s say a family team. What is it like to race in a family team?

TH: I think a lot of drivers experience it (family team). We have a really good relationship within the family (including team) and I think that everybody can relate.. for example: Christmas Day - you are with your family and you have this amazing feeling that you are all together. That is the way that we spent every race weekend (as a team).

JS: Your father is your spotter. What is it like to have him in your ear during a race?

TH: His great! We are basically driving the car together – he knows exactly what I am going through and his guiding me well.

JS: The 2019 season did not get off to a good start for you in Abu Dhabi, but you have made a comeback and claimed four wins more than anyone. How did you find the mental strength to fight back?

TH: It was tough. I put all that work in and to go to the first race and have a crash – it’s bad for the results and it was not what I had imagined. I had won Q1 and Q2 and I was leading Q3 – so I had a brilliant race and I felt that it was taken away from me and it also cost a lot of money (to repair the damage) that we were working hard to get. It was tough, but the guys managed to repair the car in time and we were back on the start line in Barcelona, and then I just wanted to get out there - try again and work hard and I won that race. It was a complete contrast and Kevin was second.

JS: Projekt E launched in Latvia a few weeks/months ago, and yourself and Kevin were in attendance. What are your thoughts on the concept?

TH: I hope that Projekt E can become a success. I think that it is good to showcase electric rallycross to the fans one year earlier and that is already next year. Everything else will run as normal with the normal engines and all the sound that we have, while Projekt E will run on the side. So, I think that it is really good to show the fans the racing on the track. The action that we all love is going to be no different but we are going to miss the sound. It’s not that it is silent – it’s another sound but I think it is good to showcase it.

JS: You took to Instagram to congratulate Lewis Hamilton for achieving six World Championships. What can you as a driver learn from that success? You also mention that he inspires you. How does Lewis inspire you?

TH: It’s not the success in its self that motivates me, because then it would be more motivating to look at Sébastien Loeb who was my teammate last year – he has more titles. Seb is a friend now, but it’s different – I have never met Lewis but I wish I will one day.

I can relate a lot to what his going through and what he is saying about having to perform race after race and it takes all that you’ve got. It’s really hard to be on top of your game every race but his still able to be very humble and trying to spread his positive attitude into the world. He also takes his position as Formula 1 World Champion and tries to make something good out of it.

He does not limit himself to Formula 1, but also trying to in his own way to contribute to the world bringing awareness to some topics that need to be done and spread some love. I am trying to do that too – I want to inspire people with what I am doing and if one kid wants to live their dream because of me inspiring them – I have succeeded. That would be the greatest success I could ever reach. In that way – I look up to him a lot.

JS: Can you take us through what goes through the mind of a racing driver minutes before a race? Do you think of anything? Or is it a clear mind and muscle memory taking over?

TH: I would say that you could compare your launch to riding a rollercoaster. People often compare racing to rollercoasters but it’s not quite like that. Although the sensation is like that or quite similar. But the focus that you’ve got. I will give you an example: When you are studying really hard at school and you want to succeed, and there is a topic where you feel that you did not master it yet.

Then the teacher hands you a test and you really want to do well in this essay. You’ve studied so hard and you have the pen in your hand and you are about to start. That is kind of feeling we have. Nothing goes through your mind – you just focus and you know that you’ve prepared and there is a sense of comfort, but still a nervousness. So, that is kind of what happens inside the car as well.

JS: What would it mean to you to be crowned 2019 FIA World RX champion?

TH: It would mean a lot of course. It has been my dream and my goal for many years. FIA World Champion – it’s a title that not many people have reached, and the ones that have reached it are the very greatest to have been in motorsport. So, It would be amazing, but on the other hand, it doesn’t make it any easier for me if I win or not – after that race, I am going to look forward to 2020.

Timmy Hansen

                                                                        Image: Red Bull Content Pool

In 2020, I want to be World Champion as well and to do that I have to prepare and study for my essay if you want say that. Prepare everything and prepare through the winter and that is not going to change. So, the work that I have ahead is exactly the same but of course, I want to achieve my goal of becoming a world champion – I don’t think that it changes my everyday life but I am super focused on my task ahead.

JS: What would you still like to achieve in your motorsport career?

TH: I don’t know. I like driving cars. When I was a kid I used to dream of driving in Formula 1, it would be cool to try it one day. I won’t race there though. There are a lot of professional goals, but I also want to be with my family and I want my son to grow up happy.

JS: What do you think of Killarney Raceway, or of Cape Town and its people?

TH: The people in Cape Town are great. Super friendly wherever you go and they have a friendly approach and I think that is why I enjoy being in Cape Town. It’s also a beautiful city with the mountains and coming here the track is good. I think it’s a fair track – it opens up for good and hard racing. It’s a fantastic place to be and to end this season.

JS: You have raced on a number of World RX circuits in a number of countries? I have a challenge for you. Can you DRAW your ideal World RX circuit or what would it look like?

Timmy Hansen

                                                                          Image: Timmy Hansen

TH talks us through the circuit design: I am going to use the Killarney first corner. It’s a long one and then it tightens up followed by a banked left then a jump and into a banked right. This is kind of Nitro RX. I like a circuit with a good flow, so then it will stretch out into a hairpin left into a double left followed by a right-hander. Maybe if I actually build a circuit then I’d spend more time on it.

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