► We chat to Timmy and Kevin Hansen
► Peugeot’s WRX duo gunning for gold
► Loeb, electric racers and sibling rivalry discussed
Without doubt, the biggest draw of Peugeot’s factory World Rallycross Championship (WRX) team is nine-time world rally champion and all-round motorsport deity, Sebastien Loeb. Although he’s in what (surely) must be the twilight of his career, the Frenchman is the star of the WRX show – but things could soon be about to change.
Meet Timmy and Kevin, two Swedish brothers (and sons of European rallycross legend Kenneth Hansen) currently plying their trade in the same WRX championship as Loeb. The former (and elder) is Sebastien’s teammate, while Kevin is the 20-year-old relative rookie in the third team Peugeot car – an individually entered 2017 model.
Like the Toures of football or the Schumachers of F1, Timmy and Kevin are both tipped for stardom in what has got to be one of the most in-vogue racing series around, combining quickfire races with a one-off ‘joker’ lap designed to keep audiences engaged throughout. Liberty Media take not. Oh, and it’s due to go all-electric from 2020.
As we go into the brothers’ home round in Gothenburg Sweden, Timmy is currently lying in 6th place in the overall standings, with his younger sibling not too far behind in the slightly older car. Loeb, meanwhile, sits in 2nd. We recently caught up with the WRX duo and quizzed them on everything from sibling rivalry, to the future of world rallycross, and what’s it’s like sharing a team with Sebastien Loeb.
We start with family. Did the brothers ever feel pressured into becoming racing drivers given their mother and father’s success (mum Susann was also a European rally cross champ)? ‘We never felt pressured’ says younger brother Kevin. ‘They just encouraged us to do what we want and we wanted to drive karts. We enjoy what we do and drive what we want – we’ve never felt pressure to do as good as our dad.’
No small mercy, considering that dad Kenneth won 14 FIA European Rallycross championships during his glittering career. Comparisons between father and sons would surely be inevitable, with many of which unlikely to be flattering. Did they want to go their own way in motorsport because of this?
‘Kevin was always 100% rallycross’ says Timmy. ‘For me, I think I wanted to do something else – maybe my parents can answer why – I was looking at F1 an that’s what I was dreaming about, maybe I wanted to go my own way. And I did for as long as I could. Many of my friends (Timmy reals off a list of current F1 drivers including Magnussen, Ericsson, Sainz and Vandoorne) from racing back then are in F1 now. But I’m at least as happy in WRX as they are in F1.’
Indeed, the brothers struggle to see life as racing drivers away from the WRX, regardless of how successful they might become. Kevin sums it up well, stating ‘if someone offered me the opportunity to be at the top level of rallycross for 10-15 more years but not become champion, or stay two years and become champion I’d choose the former.’
Not that the former is likely to ring true. After winning two European Junior Rallycross Cup titles, he became a senior European Rallycross champ at just 18 and is now into his fourth WRX season. His first world title, it seems, cannot be far away.
But what of the sibling rivalry? Timmy – at the age of 26 – is now an experienced WRX driver with aspirations to win the title, too, so does he ever think twice before giving his – already super-quick – younger brother tips?
‘I don’t think I give him advice’ says Timmy. ‘I think we will discuss it together. I did give him advice when I was younger but then I went out into the big wide world to learn. Today, every exercise we do we are equally as fast, although maybe a little too competitive…’
Timmy regales stories of when the two were younger playing video games. It could get ‘very ugly, very competitive’. But within two hours it would all be gone and they could be friends again. ‘It’s not like the rivalry between Hamilton and Vettel where they crash and they hate each other for three months.’
If the lack of any lurid tales of underhand and unbrotherly tricks are disappointing (although I am told that family board games are heated affairs, especially when mum Susann is involved), the on-track camaraderie is anything but. I ask Timmy how they would approach situations where they come up against each other on track, something that happens often on the compact circuits of the WRX calendar.
‘I would make sure he (Kevin) doesn’t lose out. With other competitors we might do it a little harder with more contact.’
And if another driver pushed one of the brother’s off the track, would the other brother deal out on-track revenge? ‘I think I would, I’m a bit crazy’ says Kevin with a wry grin on his face, older brother looking over as if to confirm this. ‘I’m quite an emotional person like my mum. It hasn’t happened yet when I’m also in a car but if I’m watching and someone pushes Timmy I get very angry.’
Both brothers reject the notion that they team up as a collective force, however. ‘When we sit in the car we are alone – nobody will do it for us. I can’t expect my brother to do it for me and push me around the track – we both have to do it very well, alone.’
And what of the brothers teammate, Monsieur Loeb – how do they describe sharing a team with one of the greatest multi-discipline drivers ever? ‘It’s fun’ says Timmy. ‘Even though he’s Sebastien Loeb we think of him as Seb and he’s a fun guy – fair and relaxed.’
It’s at this point that the man himself circles around where we are conducting the interview on a foldup Peugeot bicycle, looking as effortlessly cool as only a slightly ruffled (he’d just flown into Luton airport a couple of hours before) Frenchman in his mid-forties could.
We wind up the interview with a quick word on the future of WRX. As alluded to earlier, the Supercar series will solely be made up of all-electric cars from 2020, with the motors expected to come from a single supplier.
‘It’s a big step and it’s a change of how the car is driven, what engine we put in it’ says Timmy. ‘It’s going to have more power and because of these short races we have in rallycross it makes no sense to stay in these old engines’.
Will it change the racing? Younger brother Kevin reckons it will take away a few elements such as the gears and noise, but nothing so much to harm the spectator element of the sport. Kenneth Hansen has the final say, however, as Timmy explains.
‘Father said it well when someone questioned that rallycross would not have been the same in the old days had it have been electric. He said the drivers would still have wanted to kill each other regardless of the engine in the car’