It’s a bit of a racing cliché to suggest motorsport is in someone’s DNA from the moment they’re born. So, my apologies, but this piece has to start with a cliché. You’ll understand why soon enough.
Kevin Hansen had rallycross in his DNA from the moment he was born. With father Kenneth a 14-time European Rallycross champion and mom Susann a European Super 1600 champion, it’s no wonder he’s become one of the leading lights in the discipline.
But there’s something a little unusual about Kevin’s development. He ignored the normal pathway.
Lots of drivers enter karting with their heart set on reaching Formula 1 – Kevin’s older brother and 2019 world champion Timmy Hansen included.
Not Kevin. He knew from the outset that rallycross was going to be his destiny.
“I still remember vividly the conversation with my mom,” Kevin tells DirtFish. “It was at home; I think in the bathroom! I said to Susann, I don’t want to do go-karts anymore, I want to drive in rallycross.”
His first taste of rallycross came with a Suzuki Swift. He was hooked from the first turn of the wheel.
“I drove the Suzuki up and down a gravel road at home for the first time, shifting gears and sitting on the wrong side,” he says, referencing the fact it was a right-hand-drive car. “Then we went to Kinnekulle and did my first proper laps in my own rallycross car, went around and around with Kenneth watching, telling me what to do.
“It felt good straight away. I’d also seen so many rallycross races, so it was like it was already in me. It’s like I knew what to do.”
Kevin was part of the first generation that wanted to be a professional rallycross driver from the outset. It was a discipline on the up – two years after Kevin switched to cars, the newly-launched world championship usurped Euro RX as the top level.
“Me and the Erikssons [Oliver and Kevin] were three guys who were the first to grow up watching a sport that we really wanted to do ourselves. For me it was obvious that one day I wanted to do it.
“It’s difficult to say the reason I wanted to do it – it felt like this is what I was born to do. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s very natural in that way.”
It was no surprise given the amount of time he spent in the Euro RX paddock following mom and dad around.
“In the beginning, I was more interested in going to rallycross events and watch Kenneth drive and be there than drive myself! But when I got to 2009, I decided I wanted to prioritize my own driving a bit more.”
While baby Kevin was pottering around following 14-time European champion Kenneth and team boss Susann around, another key figure in the youngest Hansen’s development was already hard at work.
Hansen Motorsport’s head of performance Graham Rodemark has been around as an engineer at the top level of rallycross for over two decades now. Around half of that has been as Kevin’s right-hand-man, whether that’s as lead engineer on his car, his spotter or even as a guardian-of-sorts when a 17-year-old Kevin made his World RX debut in Argentina (pictured above) with Olsbergs MSE.
Despite the wealth of knowledge, experience and influence that only his parents could provide, it was primarily left to Rodemark to guide Kevin through his first years in rallycross.
“They didn’t really get involved at all,” says Rodemark of Kenneth and Susann. “It was quite odd for me because they were like, ‘there you go, here’s our youngest son, you crack on’.
“So, I was doing all the driver coaching, not like it is at the top level, but telling him what to do and how to do it. And they weren’t really involved in it at all. They were pretty much just there because he couldn’t travel to races on his own.”
The first race I ever did, I ran with the handbrake engaged! It was pretty much constant improvement from thereKevin Hansen on his first rallycross race
This implicit trust paid dividends. Over the years, the Hansen–Rodemark combo has blossomed into a critical partnership for both driver and engineer. Even if there was something of an inauspicious start during a pre-season test for the MSA Junior Rallycross series back in 2012.
“Kevin came to England with his dad to an open day at Lydden Hill and drove my own Suzuki Swift, and promptly crashed it! It was snowing, freezing cold, icy track, not great conditions at all.
“That’s when we properly joined forces, to go on and do the Suzuki Swift Junior Championship in 2013. I drove in the senior category and he drove in the juniors.”
Kevin was getting stuck in as young as he possibly could – he couldn’t make the start of the season in 2012 as he was too young to race.
“I started midway through the MSA Junior Rallycross series in 2012 as I couldn’t do the first round – I wasn’t 14 yet!” explains Kevin.
“I remember the first one was at Nutts Corner [in Northern Ireland] and the first race I ever did, I ran with the handbrake engaged! It was pretty much constant improvement from there.”
His memory starts to go a bit fuzzy. Where did the first win come about? Take a guess who he turns to for a quick fact check.
“Graham, the first rallycross race I made, I won the first one or the second one? I think it was the second one…”
A quick shout across the Hansen awning confirms it was the second one. Winning with the handbrake engaged would have been quite a miracle, after all.
Once able to do the full UK season in 2013 Kevin won the junior title. After that, it was back to Sweden for a campaign in the domestic Supercar Lites series, plus a season in the international RX Lites series that later became RX2. He was on the World RX support bill come 2016.
“I watched Timmy, Séb [Loeb] and Davy [Jeanney] above and always planned to get there myself. That was my hunger throughout the years,” Hansen says.
“It was mainly about having talent but also having lots of good people around me that made sure that no matter where I was, I had good equipment, good coaching and good strategy. I was very blessed to have the best team on the grid around me during my junior career.”
There was one blip, though. Graham was busy working on the Peugeot 208 WRX Supercars and so the partnership with Kevin had ended – but only temporarily, as it would transpire. But 2015 in particular had been a shaky season.
“I had a mental coach that didn’t bring me in the right direction,” says Kevin. “I was not really myself and I did not really enjoy it. There was a lot of pressure with a ‘must-win’ mentality.
It was thanks to everyone around me that I understood something was wrong and I needed adjustmentKevin Hansen on bouncing back from losing the Swedish title
“I was still fast, but my driving wasn’t relaxed, and I wasn’t enjoying it.
“I lost the Swedish championship because of that, and I remember the heartbreak afterwards. I understood something was wrong and everyone else around me felt that too.
“The last race of the season was in RX2 [then known as RX Lites]. I was also leading that championship, and everything went much better: I was more relaxed, had a better attitude and it was thanks to everyone around me that I understood something was wrong and I needed adjustment. After that I was much better again.”
Then came the biggest year of his climb up the rallycross ladder. He’d finally made it to Supercar level, competing in Euro RX while older brother Timmy was competing for the world championship. He’d won everything he’d raced in beforehand but there was no guarantee of success at the highest level.
And yet, outwardly at least, it looked the easiest. He steamrolled the field with four wins in a row, polished off with a second place at the season finale in Latvia.
“In the first qualifying race, I remember we crashed and had a DNF,” says Kevin. “I thought it would be a tough year. But after Q2 in Mettet, it was pretty straightforward. We were really fast and after that, I had good engineers and a great team to teach me.”
Graham was back on the team as his main man and despite Kevin’s young years – he was only 17 years old when he secured that Euro RX title – it wasn’t considered a surprising outcome.
“He was super young and didn’t really have any pressure,” Rodemark explains. “Nobody expected anything of him – OK, he’s Kenneth Hansen’s son – but his mindset and us working together, where he left it solely to me to do anything with problems with the car and then got in feeling confident and happy, it wasn’t really a surprise.
“When something gels really well, it just happens.
“It wasn’t expected – we didn’t start the season and think we’re going to win this easily because he’s so much better than everyone else, that wasn’t the case at all – but our general mindset and the lack of pressure because we hadn’t been at the highest level before made it so much easier.”
That partnership has proven to be a symbiotic one. Each depends on the other to a certain extent – a driver knowing he has a skilled engineer in his corner come rain or shine, and an engineer knowing his driver has implicit trust in his abilities to make the right calls.
“It’s been very important all the way through having someone who knows you from the first steps,” Kevin summarizes. “You always feel very human, with two feet on the ground, as you both began in this same place and you’ve grown together to become this superteam. And that’s an amazing story, sharing this together. A lot of credit goes to him.”
“It starts at a personal level really,” says Rodemark.
That World RX debut in Argentina is a case in point.
“When he won the European championship, there was a prize to drive the last round of World RX in Argentina and I went with OMSE and Kevin. Hansen Motorsport with Timmy and Séb were doing their own thing.
“Kevin and I went to the hotel with the other team, and he was still very young, with a bunch of new people, so I was there with him as a sort-of guardian. Here he was staying in a hotel in the middle of a country he didn’t know with a bunch of people he hadn’t met before. It was more than the racing – there was the traveling and everything else.
“Being able to spend that amount of time with one person is a key factor.”
Nearly a decade on from that first introduction at Lydden Hill, they’re still together. The dynamic is the same – it’s just the trophies they’re chasing are a little more prestigious than the Junior Swift title. They’ve won everything in between – all that’s left is the world championship. And with only 23 years under his belt on planet Earth, Kevin’s got plenty of opportunities yet to make it happen.