HANSEN: EMERGING FROM LOEB’S SHADOW
Hal ridge looks at how peugeot’s pairing have been closely matched this season
The first measure of performance for any driver in motorsport is against their team-mate.
In February 2016, Team Peugeot-hansen announced that the most successful rally driver of all time, Sebastien Loeb, would line up alongside former circuit racer Timmy Hansen in the squad’s Peugeot 208 WRX Supercars.
While Hansen had switched to rallycross for 2013 and had three full campaigns under his belt (with four World RX wins to his name) by the time Loeb arrived, the Frenchman’s status as one of the world’s best drivers meant he was labelled as a title favourite in his first year, before he had even raced the 208 WRX.
Twenty-three events on, as the pair reach the conclusion of their second full World RX assault as team-mates, there has been little to choose between them.
Hansen admits that despite having talented and competitive colleagues prior to 2016, there was always the pondering question of what would happen if the one of the world’s best was inserted into his car, to see what they could do.
“It’s surprisingly normal to have Sebastien as my team-mate,” he says. “I sort of expected the world to turn upside down, but he is just a driver, if I can say that, and he is very fast. But, he has no secret, he is just very good. Of course I had some thoughts about how fast could this car go if the best driver would drive it [before Loeb switched disciplines to rallycross]. Sebastien is a very good benchmark.”
Despite his family heritage in the sport [ his father Kenneth is a 14-time European Rallycross champion], Hansen initially made his name in circuit racing, up to Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 level. He now considers himself a rallycross driver through and through, and has spent the last two years being measured against legend Loeb.
It’s widely accepted that, over an elongated period, statistics don’t lie. Loeb and Hansen may have only scored a win apiece in the last two terms ahead of the 2017 series finale in South Africa next week, but they have been one of the strongest and most equal pairings in the championship. Loeb leads Hansen in total podiums 10 to nine; both have four second places to their name while Loeb has five thirds to Hansen’s four.
What is arguably most impressive of all however, aside from Hansen regularly matching Loeb for outright pace, is the young driver’s consistency. Hansen is only one fastest qualifying time behind Loeb’s benchmark of five, and while Loeb has been in 13 finals so far in World RX, Hansen has qualified for 16 since the start of 2016. This year, only once has the number 21 driver not made the last race of a weekend.
The 25-year-old feels that he has raised his game and been closer to Loeb’s potential in 2017. Coming from his circuit-racing background, Hansen has had to learn loose-surface driving in rallycross, and is renowned for his super tidy style.
“There were more differences between us last year, I would say. This year we are more equal, around a lap in every corner there is never more than a tenth here or a tenth there to anyone’s advantage,” he says.
“I like the car to be a little bit understeering and he likes it to be a little bit oversteering, so we have our basic difference to give him a little bit more front and me a little bit more rear grip, but apart from that we always do the same changes, have the same updates and developments on the cars. It’s just the fine tuning, the personal preference that we have different. In that way I can be proud of my own development. I’ve worked really hard. I’m still young and I have to work harder than Seb if I want to compete with him. He has the experience; he’s been doing this for many years and I’ve got to catch that in as little time as possible.”
Aside from pushing himself as a driver, Hansen says he has learnt as much outside of the car as in it since he became team-mates with Loeb. “He’s used to working in big teams and I think maybe the thing that I’ve learnt the most is that he really lets everyone do their job and he does his job as good as he can,” he says. “I have often tried to fix all the problems myself, but if there is an issue with the car that we need to solve he is very good at explaining that and he is very clear that the engineers need to work on that and mechanics too, and he is the driver. That’s when you achieve results as he did in WRC.”
Outwardly, Loeb can give the impression that he is not as dedicated to the overall cause as he perhaps once was, but Hansen says the Frenchman is as professional as ever, and his ability to switch off from ‘work’ has helped Hansen raise his level too.
“Sebastien is very good at doing his job and he is very professional with his driving, the debriefs and all of the analysing, but in his spare time he likes to go back to his camper or hotel and relax,” he says, acknowledging that down time hasn’t come naturally to him. “There is the time to work and there is the time to think about it and then there is the time to try to forget it, because when you forget about it and you have a good night’s sleep, that’s when it really settles in and you can use it the day after. At the moment I’m trying to get better at that; when I’m working, I’m really working, but when I’m at home I should stop working, so I shouldn’t take my laptop and watch onboards, stuff that I love doing! I’m still learning that, but I’m working really hard on everything.”
Peugeot Sport has already confirmed its continuation in World RX for 2018 with brand ambassador Loeb, but there is yet to be any official word on if the Team Peugeot-hansen set-up will remain, or if Hansen will continue to drive for the French marque.
Whatever unfolds in the next few months, Hansen can be assured that he has taken on and not only matched but often beaten one of the world’s most decorated drivers. While Hansen is often overlooked because his personality isn’t as loud and outgoing as others in the World RX paddock, the Swede’s experience, consistency, pace and professionalism should put him high on the list of candidates for any team in the series with world title ambitions. ■
Timmy and Kevin Hansen and Loeb
Hansen and the old master
Timmy Hansen took his breakthrough WRX victory in Italy back in 2014