Sunday, July 21, 2024

INTERVIEW: Timmy and Kevin Hansen on the Past, Present, and Future of World Rallycross

Timmy and Kevin Hansen are the drivers for the Hansen World RX Team. They have been in the thick of the fight in the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship, and, as an evolution of the most successful team in European rallycross history, are taking the fight to reigning champion Johan Kristoffersson. Although Kristoffersson has won each round so far, the Hansen brothers are gaining with each round, with Kevin currently third in the championship, and 2019 world champion Timmy securing a second-place finish in Sweden. The Checkered Flag [TCF] sat down with the two drivers in their hospitality area at Lydden Hill Race Circuit on Saturday 22 July to discuss their passion for rallycross, their current goals and where they see the championship going in the future.

It’s very exciting to see how far we’ve come in just six years and just how impressive the future is looking

Kevin Hansen

TCF: Welcome back to Lydden Hill! A lot has changed since we were last here in 2017, with the change to electric rather than internal combustion, and the track now has a jump and the Talladega drift section. How much does this feel like a return to somewhere you’ve been before and how much is it a completely new challenge?

Timmy Hansen [TH]: Well I think they’ve done great in keeping the classics of Lydden while also adding new features and making the track a bit more challenging. There’s now more than one line through turn one, for example, that makes it hugely more exciting for overtaking. They’ve added the jump and they’ve really taken nothing away from the old track, just added modern new features that are a bit challenging for us drivers.

Kevin Hansen [KH]: And with the new cars, and with the speed we get on this new track, you can really push it and show its true potential, because you have such long straights here at Lydden Hill and you can really experience and see from the side of the track how fast these new cars are. So, coming back to where we were a few years ago with the sport much more modern, with the new kit and with a new future with the new promoter, it’s very exciting to see how far we’ve come in just six years and just how impressive the future is looking.

TCF: Absolutely. We only saw the RX2e cars in action today but their speed was really impressive.

TH: They have been so fast on lap times as well. They have been right up there with the supercars.

KH: That should normally not be the case. Imagine the step up we make then with our cars.

Timmy and Kevin Hansen in action earlier in the year in Portugal. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

TCF: Can you describe the feeling of how driving an electric rx car is different to what it was like before?

TH: The first reaction you get when you pull away and you haven’t driven the car before and you put your foot down, it accelerates crazy fast. That’s old news. But then it just keeps accelerating, it just keeps going. It feels like it doesn’t end! So that’s incredible. And then of course there are loads of challenges with going through the turns, but just the power of the car is insane.

KH: And you get new references with the different sounds. You don’t have anything to work with with gears anymore, so you pay more attention to what the car is doing, because you have less things to do with gears and stuff. You can use pure feel, listen and understand what is going on. It’s very comfortable, and everything is easier in a way. But then to be on the limit is very hard, and, as you say, the power in insane so in that way it’s more challenging.

If you don’t love the hard work, then you will never make it to the top of any sport.

Timmy Hansen

TCF: You’ve been improving every round, but there is one driver who still has a bit of a target on his back. Are you relishing the challenge of having someone to hunt and go after, or would you rather be out at the front with the others hunting you?

TH: There is something cool with both. In sport in general, you have some runs when it goes incredibly well and you’re just winning and that’s the reward for all the hard work. But, if you don’t love the hard work, if you don’t love the challenge and striving for better, then you will never make it to the top of any sport. You need to go through the challenging time and you’ve got to love that as well. Johan is great, we’re up here in the world championship, he’s got a great run of form now and our goal is to catch him. That’s incredible because, when you’re out front, you can get very comfortable in what you have and get a little bit settled in to where you are and you don’t want to change too much. But when you are not fast enough, there is no limit. Kenneth [Hansen, team manager and Timmy and Kevin’s father] is incredible. There was a round in Norway which, after the first day, was quite good. We weren’t quite there, but it felt quite good, so we thought “maybe we keep the car like it is.” But then Kenneth said “no, we haven’t come here to finish where we are. We need to continue to push” and we had some crazy idea that probably wouldn’t work, but that time it did. And the car was incredible the next day. And that’s also like a win for the team back here. We found something, and we’re making progress.

Kevin Hansen flies in Sweden. Credit: Rallycross Promoter GmbH / Red Bull Content Pool

TCF: We haven’t had any RX1e action today. Have you had the chance to go out and be a fan of rallycross and soak up the atmosphere?

KH: It’s been incredible. I came here for the first time racing ten, eleven years ago and it’s such a special event. You see all the cars on the hill and the crowd around outside. There is something special about Lydden Hill because it’s so accessible and you see everything. Just to be a fan of rallycross, to see where Rallycross has come from with all the old cars we’ve had running today, and to see the future with the electric cars running out there and how good they’ve become – I’ve really enjoyed it. It was really cool just to be on the sidelines a bit. But it makes you also realise how great it is when you’re actually driving. I want to be out there! But it’s been a great day.

Isak Sjökvist in a #YellowSquad RX2e car at Lydden Hill. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

TCF: You have your junior team, #YellowSquad, in the RX2e class, which has been running today. How much can you use their experience to inform your own race strategy?

TH: It’s a bit like you’re into the track already. Talking to them about different lines, you learn about where is slippery, how far up the bank you can go, the car’s bottoming out over the kerb after the jump…you can pick up little details without being out on track. We don’t have the rhythm in the body yet, but we know a couple of the places where to be on the track without having been out ourselves.

TCF: With electric cars, there will always be people who focus on the different noise to internal combustion racing cars. What do you say to the people who complain about the lack of engine noise?

KH: I normally say: do you watch races with your eyes closed? No you don’t. You watch it with the full experience. Sure, you take away one thing, but you hear new things. It’s not quiet, especially not these cars. They’re very, very loud in their own way. But it’s something different, and people don’t like change. But it’s incredible to see how much approval there’s been for this type of car in less than a year. We began in August 2022. It’s now July 2023 and electric motorsport in rallycross is highly appreciated and we’re striving to get more and more interest constantly.

TH: I think a bit of the negative aspect of it comes from the separation of classes into two, the all-electric world championship and the all-petrol Euro championship. People watch great racing all day, but they say they prefer the noise, and I can understand that. But maybe the mistake has been not putting these cars side by side. If people would have seen how fast these cars are, you can cheer for anybody out on track but the electric cars would win nine out of ten races, mainly because we would be miles out ahead right from the start. People haven’t seen how fast the car is in a side by side comparison, and I think, if they had seen it, the attitude would have been very different. It would have been more toward electric being faster, which we experience, but people haven’t really seen it for themselves.

People haven’t seen how fast the electric car is in a side by side comparison, and I think, if they had seen it, the attitude would have been very different.

Timmy Hansen

TCF: There’s a lot of classic rallycross tracks on the calendar this year, such as Mettet in Belgium, Estering in Germany, and here at Lydden Hill. What is it about these classic tracks that appeals to drivers and fans?

KH: There is a history there, with references to great battles, great overtakes, and an atmosphere of a crowd normally. That’s the main thing. There are huge crowds at these classic events that have survived. The track opens up to good racing. The fans love coming here, they love the experience of travelling from their home to here and what they find at the venue. The sport is all about keeping these classic venues. Rallycross is more than sixty years old and we have a huge history of where we’ve come from, and to let those go would be a mistake. But you also see the new events like Hong Kong and the great race in Cape Town. That is the new rallycross because we can get really close to fans, and with the electric we’ve got into Hong Kong. It’s an incredible new opportunity, and to have that mix is just great.

Timmy Hansen on his way to his first podium of 2023 in Höljes, Sweden. Credit: Mihai Stetcu / Red Bull Content Pool

TCF: We’ve talked a lot about the future of rallycross, but there have been a lot of retro rallycross cars going round the hill today. If you could have your pick of any car from rallycross history to do a couple of laps of the track, what would you pick?

KH: My father’s 2003 Citroen Xsara.

TH: I was going to say the same car.

TCF: Those answers were super fast! What is it about that specific car?

TH: It won six straight championships, it was beating the competition by far. It was a bit like the Volkswagen Polo has been for the last couple of years. It was the car of its time.

KH: It was classic because it was such a strong red. When we were growing up, it was the atmosphere of our childhood. That car, for me, is rallycross and a dream car in every aspect. It’s perfect in its ratio for its wheels, it’s perfect for its bodykit – it’s just incredible.

Rallycross legend and Hansen World RX Team manager, Kenneth Hansen with Timmy and Kevin in 2022. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

TCF: And of course you’re paying homage to it with your livery for this year’s car.

KH: Exactly. We’re coming back to the Xsara with the red colour. This is Hansen Motorsport. We have always been red and now we’re back being red, because of that car. I even sent a reference to the designer of that car, so it’s 100% inspired by that.

TCF: Any other cars you’d like to have a go in?

TH: Some other good cars would have been the Group B ones before they put the restricters in. I think those would have been more of an experience. Like Martin Schanche‘s Opel, for example, which has incredible power for a split second in every gear and is just wild. I was watching a classic rallycross race on YouTube recently where Schanche was being classic and dramatic. He passed someone so fast down the straight at Brands Hatch, maybe double the speed of the other car, and then he was straight off onto the grass! But there are so many good cars here this weekend, it’s been great.

Kevin and Timmy Hansen with TCF writer Ben Huntley