HANSEN: EMERG­ING FROM LOEB’S SHADOW

Hal ridge looks at how peu­geot’s pair­ing have been closely matched this sea­son

Motor Sport News - - Headline News -

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

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