There isn’t much that wasn’t thrown Kevin Hansen’s way ahead of Extreme E’s Island X-Prix double-header in Sardinia.
A horrific back injury sustained last time out in Saudi Arabia, uncertainty surrounding his JBXE team that led to the crew switching again, and a new team-mate in the form of Hedda Hosås, it’s been a lot for the younger Hansen brother to juggle but he’s come out of all of it “stronger than I was before”.
After breaking his back in the season opening Desert X-Prix as a result of a heavy landing from a jump, Hansen was immediately taken under the care of professionals provided by long-term backer Red Bull, who ensured his recovery was not only smooth, but quick.
“These 19 weeks have been very tough,” he tells DirtFish. “A lot of hard work and it’s been so far away to come back, it’s always been a long time for me.
“When I got in [the car], I was prepared. I always knew this month would be approximately the time of racing, and thanks to Red Bull, early on I got a good recovery and I’ve continued that process.
“I’m stronger than I was before, both mentally and physically, so I was very prepared for the challenge,” he adds. “But to come back and deliver the way I’ve done, I think, with the pace and the teamwork, and the car, working with everyone, I think this is the best I’ve felt in myself for a long time.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the process I’ve had to come back and just to get back on track being that strong is a huge achievement and it’s the receipt that what I’m doing is correct.”
You couldn’t tell that Hansen had come back from a potentially – but thankfully not – life-altering injury. Solid pace in both qualifying sessions gave Hansen’s JBXE team a semifinal berth, which subsequently moved it into the final where the drivers set two fastest sector times, only to just miss out on a podium with fourth place.
But Hansen’s own physical and mental redemption is one thing. The changes in the team itself brought about further challenges.
In Saudi Arabia, a last-minute coming together of JBXE’s 2022 campaign plan meant that Hansen’s own rallycross crew was running the car in the Middle East.
With things more settled, there was yet another change of crew, back to the one that ran the car last season.
As well as that, Molly Taylor – another late change before the season opener – wasn’t to return, her spot being taken by Veloce Racing development driver Hosås.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the team had no testing with XE’s new FOX dampers, unlike most other teams which had the luxury of three days of running with the improved parts.
“It was quite a late call to come here, everything was set up quite late but I was very happy to come,” Hansen explains. “Got prepared well last week, looking at onboards and so on, then we understood that Molly wouldn’t come and Hedda would be my team-mate so it was a new challenge, my third team-mate.”
For much of last year, Hansen raced alongside Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky but she got snapped up by Rosberg X Racing for 2022.
“Meeting up here, going through the track, everything’s been working really well from the track walk to working together with Hedda, the team – it’s nice to have the original team back in JBXE even though it was some of ‘my guys’ in Saudi, which is always nice, but it was good to have them here. They know how everything works and it’s been really fun generally over the ‘weekend’.
“We got a good idea of the dampers, we didn’t have any testing while the other teams had three days so I think we did a pretty good job catching up.”
He was also full of praise for Hosås who, after a brief cameo deputizing for the injured Christine Giampaoli Zonca at Veloce in Saudi Arabia, has been embarking on her first full event as a professional top-level driver and thinks that together they’ve set a good baseline to build upon in round three this weekend.
“Hedda’s done huge steps forward all ‘weekend’,” he says. “For sure it’s not easy to come into this kind of level but in the semi she [pulled] away from Carlos [Sainz] and the others, hugely strong work keeping the gap all the way through and bringing it home and I think that shows the promise for the next race here on Saturday and Sunday where we can get to try again.
With these new World Rallycross cars, it’s a little bit one-make and we can tweak it around us as well so I think that’s the perfect mix for meKevin Hansen
“I think it will be very tight between everyone now that we’ve had one race so yeah, we’ll try to get on top of it and we’ll continue to make progress because it’s looking promising.”
Hansen’s handled this first round of the Sardinia double-header impressively, and it’s set him up perfectly to tackle the upcoming World Rallycross season, which will come with its own set of challenges as the series migrates to a spec electric drivetrain.
“I have a very good feeling, I’m very much looking forward to trying the car, to get a proper feeling of the sensations in that car and how it’s working, get on top of that with all the new engineers and all the people in the team, and get really dialled in,” he says of his ‘day job’ in World RX. “And I think I’ve always been very strong in single-make categories and now with these new World Rallycross cars, it’s a little bit one-make and we can tweak it around us as well so I think that’s the perfect mix for me.
“I have everybody around me that I need to perform and I know how I need to move forward, what I need to do to do a good job so let’s see if these things fall together and we’re going to have a really good year.
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“The work that’s gone down has been very good and I will continue to see if this the way to go forward.”
But of course before that is the small matter of another XE round Sardinia’s unique double-header putting together two full championship rounds across five days.
“The track’s going to be very tough come Sunday afternoon so it’s really going to take a lot of effort to be on top, but we’ve got a good base here now,” Hansen says.
“[We have] some relaxing tomorrow (Friday), recover properly and 100% again on the Saturday and Sunday.