The man be­hind Hansen Jr

The Swede is mak­ing ral­ly­cross waves, but has his Bri­tish en­gi­neer to call on. By Hal Ridge

Motor Sport News - - Headline News -

T

he re­la­tion­ship be­tween en­gi­neer and driver is im­por­tant in any mo­tor rac­ing dis­ci­pline, and, like rally driv­ers and their nav­i­ga­tors, it isn’t un­com­mon for that re­la­tion­ship to be a long stand­ing one.

What is rather un­com­mon though, is for an en­gi­neer and driver to have worked to­gether from the very be­gin­nings of a ca­reer in a ju­nior for­mula, right up to world cham­pi­onship level.

In the case of cur­rent FIA Euro­pean Ral­ly­cross cham­pion Kevin Hansen and Bri­tish en­gi­neer Gra­ham Rode­mark, that is ex­actly what has hap­pened.

Kevin’s fa­ther, Ken­neth Hansen, is the most suc­cess­ful ral­ly­cross driver in his­tory, and his older brother Timmy has been a reg­u­lar even­twin­ner since the in­cep­tion of World RX in 2014. While com­pet­ing in karting at an early age, Kevin de­cided that he too wanted to be a ral­ly­cross driver. Be­ing ‘son of ’ in motorsport brings im­me­di­ate ex­pec­ta­tion and pres­sure, so in an at­tempt to al­le­vi­ate some of that, Ken­neth and Su­sann Hansen de­cided that Kevin should be­gin his ca­reer in the UK, away from home.

Just af­ter his 14th birth­day in 2012, Hansen be­gan rac­ing in the MSA Ju­nior Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship, with a Swift Sport run by Rode­mark’s Au­to­point Spe­cial­ist En­gi­neer­ing team.

An ac­com­plished en­gi­neer, like Hansen, Rode­mark has been around ral­ly­cross pad­docks his whole life and has worked with some of the best in the busi­ness. In the late 1990s he span­nered for six-time Euro­pean cham­pion Martin Schanche, and has since run cars for Pat and Liam Do­ran in the UK and Europe, also ac­com­pa­ny­ing Do­ran Jr when the Bri­tish driver joined Hansen Motorsport in 2010. That’s where Rode­mark got to know the Hansen fam­ily.

Just five years on from his de­but in ral­ly­cross, Hansen and Rode­mark have won to­gether at ev­ery level, and im­pressed on the world stage in 2016 as well as dom­i­nat­ing the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship with four wins from five events.

“The first time Kevin came and drove my Suzuki was at Ly­d­den Hill on a test day. It was snow­ing so we didn’t go out in the morn­ing,” says Rode­mark.

“When he went out, in my Se­nior car, he did four laps quite im­pres­sively, then on the fifth lap he wrote my car off. So I guess you could say the ini­tial work­ing with Kevin thing prob­a­bly cost me six days’ work I didn’t re­ally want. But, from the very be­gin­ning, Ken­neth and Su­sann turned up at Bri­tish ral­ly­cross and just handed Kevin over at the en­trance to the cir­cuit. I’m uber-proud of the trust they have put in me.”

In his first full year, Hansen dom­i­nated the Bri­tish RX Ju­nior Cham­pi­onship in 2013, while Rode­mark won the Se­nior Swift se­ries the same sea­son. Rode­mark be­lieves that work­ing to­gether as driv­ers in the early part of their re­la­tion­ship has been in­valu­able.

“I was lucky enough to win the cham­pi­onship when Kevin won the Ju­niors,” he says. “A lot of driv­ers go to a dif­fer­ent team and they’ve got to get over the ‘who is he, what has he done, what does he know?’ thing with an en­gi­neer. You’ve got to gain a cer­tain amount of trust, but Kevin has the ex­pe­ri­ence that I know a lit­tle bit about what I’m talk­ing about. We didn’t have to cross that bridge.”

It’s that re­la­tion­ship that means Rode­mark and Hansen are able to have frank ex­changes while work­ing, with to­tal faith that it’s in their col­lec­tive best in­ter­est.

“Like any driver, Kevin can some­times claim the car isn’t set up well for a par­tic­u­lar area,” adds Rode­mark. “But, it’s re­ally good, be­cause I can work with him and sug­gest that he maybe needs to change a lit­tle bit and we’ll change the car a lit­tle bit. I can also say ‘Kevin, you’re not driv­ing well, we’re not chang­ing the car, go out there and do it prop­erly.’ He knows if I say it, it’s not for no rea­son. That’s why the re­la­tion­ship works so well. It’s the same if he says ‘the car’s twitch­ing a bit to the left’ a lot of peo­ple might say ‘well it’s slip­pery or maybe the track’s dif­fer­ent there’. If he feels it, we need to ad­dress it.”

Aside from run­ning the cars, Rode­mark has acted as close friend as well as col­league to Hansen, as the 18-year-old has ma­tured. If his sur­name didn’t bring pres­sure enough, his per­sonal suc­cess hasn’t done any­thing to de­crease ex­pec­ta­tion, hav­ing claimed at least one cham­pi­onship in ev­ery full year he’s com­peted in to date.

“Kevin’s ob­vi­ously very, very tal­ented,” says Rode­mark. “I think the big thing that we need to con­quer to move for­ward is to make sure he keeps his feet on the ground. He’s young, he’s got big views on what is achiev­able and he has had big names at­tached to him too [like Red Bull and Peu­geot].

“I think it’s very dif­fi­cult for a young guy to keep his feet on the ground in that sit­u­a­tion, but it’s very im­por­tant. A cou­ple of years ago we had a bit of a wob­ble in the RX Lites where it didn’t go our way, that was a pres­sure mis­take [when Hansen crashed out of the Swedish Cham­pi­onship fi­nale and lost the ti­tle]. In Barcelona last year we only needed a cer­tain amount of points to seal the ti­tle. Ev­ery­one in the pad­dock was talk­ing about it. I spent most of the week­end mak­ing sure that ei­ther of his me­chan­ics, Kieran [Ablitt] or Toby [Guest] or my­self pulled Kevin away at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to talk about foot­ball, girls, mu­sic or what­ever. That was where I’ve seen him un­der the most pres­sure.”

Rode­mark’s ref­er­ence to Ablitt and Guest, two of Hansen’s English me­chan­ics, high­lights the close-knit team the Swede has had around him in re­cent years.

Although his plans for 2017 are yet to be con­firmed, Hansen’s next log­i­cal step is to move into the World Cham­pi­onship, where in se­lected World RX ap­pear­ances last sea­son he twice fin­ished fourth in his Peu­geot 208 Su­per­car, of­ten set­ting faster times than Peu­geot-hansen sta­ble­mates Se­bastien Loeb and brother Timmy.

“In some ways, I think he needs to go into the world cham­pi­onship, get his back­side kicked a cou­ple of times and then we’ll move for­ward,” adds Rode­mark. “He won’t dom­i­nate, so from a ‘keep­ing your feet on the ground’ point of view, it would be good to go and play with the big boys and see how we can carve our way through that lot.”

The Bri­tish en­gi­neer says he truly be­lieves that Hansen can pre­vail at the sport’s high­est level, but ex­pects a chal­leng­ing road ahead.

“I ab­so­lutely think that he can be world cham­pion,” he says. “The prob­lem is I think there were at least 10 peo­ple in the pad­dock last year that could be. But, I will do ab­so­lutely what­ever I can to try and make sure Kevin can carry on be­cause it’s be­come a dream that’s come true.

“I’ve worked with some great peo­ple, but not re­ally from the start, and not at a ‘boss’ level.

“It’s easy to get car­ried away, but I gen­uinely mean it, I will work re­ally hard to try and help him be­come world cham­pion if that’s at all pos­si­ble.

“So far, things have worked out phe­nom­e­nally well and I hope we can con­tinue to work to­gether be­cause I think ev­ery­one else will have to look out.” ■

Rode­mark (left) and Kevin Hansen

Hansen is reach­ing the top

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