With three podiums from the final four rounds – including an impressive win in Barcelona – 2020 certainly ended the way Timmy Hansen would have wanted, even if his title defense didn’t start that way.
The reigning World Rallycross Champion’s 2020 season began on shaky ground with just one podium from the opening four rounds, creating a deficit to points leader Johan Kristoffersson that he was unable to overturn.
Despite his disappointing start, the 28-year-old believes he lost none of his ability during the extended off-season between 2019 and 2020. In fact, he says the lengthy layoff was actually a benefit to him.
“I think this year I was better prepared than I was other years, I went about it in quite a calm way, I was definitely in the right place mentally for the first race,” he tells DirtFish.
“But of course COVID had a big part of it too – I think for me it was actually quite nice to have a long break because 2019 was such a hectic year, a fantastic year in every way, but also very exhausting so I definitely had time to recover before the 2020 season.”
The 2020 season was the first in which Hansen arrived with the #1 on his window, something that would bring added pressure to some, but for him it was a case of the pressure now being off and having nothing to prove.
“Being the reigning world champion, I think it changed mostly in how I approached different situations,” he says. “I had a sense of … of course I want to be world champion again, but I have nothing more to prove from now on and I’m just racing because I love racing, and that made me more calm and more focused and I think I performed well this year.”
He certainly did perform well, taking home a top-three finish in the points behind runaway leaders Kristoffersson and Mattias Ekström, but it could very well have been a tight three-way battle for the title – or four-way if you count Hansen’s younger brother and team-mate Kevin – had the Hansen team not encountered a tricky problem at the opening round of the season that meant the team started its year on the back-foot.
“We went into the season believing that we had taken a step forward and we were happy with what we’d done, but we came to the first race with an issue in the software that we were running and software issues can be hard to find,” Hansen says.
“Neither me nor Kevin could feel that there was anything wrong, but we were definitely losing time on track and that was an issue that we came to the first race with and with this season being as it was, that was a double-header right at the first weekend, then the next weekend was another double-header. But during the week [between events] there we managed to find it, or the engineers managed to find it, so when we went to Finland I would say that was when we were where we should have been in Sweden.
“So in Sweden, I lost many points in the championship, and then in Finland, we were kind of back but definitely not as good as we needed to be this year.”
With the software gremlins a thing of the past, Team Hansen got back on track – literally – working on an intensive development program that got the team back on the pace of the rival Volkswagen and Audi machinery by the end of the year
“Year-by-year development goes up and up and Kristoffersson was back and we were hoping to beat him of course and keep our world championship. Also, the Audis were really fast so once we got to Finland we felt that the level we were on – where we should be – was not enough,” Hansen says.
“From there on we kept working; this year we’ve changed so much in the car, more than any other year almost, and we’ve worked harder than we’ve ever done before in a shorter time but by the end of the season in Barcelona – it was not much time between the first and the last race – but we had definitely managed to make the car faster, [we] identified our weaknesses and worked on those and coming to Barcelona on that Saturday race, I won the race on pace and Kevin came third which was definitely the highlight for us in 2020.”
The year ending on a high-point definitely meant that the Hansens headed into the off-season smiling, but they’re not looking back on 2020 with massive disappointment either, with the tricky start to the year proving to provide them with the perfect opportunity to grow and improve together.
“The issues we had at the start of the year kind of delayed our development work if anything, but this year was the year about growing for us and becoming better and learning from our mistakes, learning from our weaknesses and I think we did fantastic, everyone in the team,” Hansen says. “It’s a great achievement to do all that work in such a short time so I’m happy about the season although we don’t have the titles with us at home, I think we’ve done good work.
“I think I’ve always been quite good at coming back and fighting back and coming from a place of struggle and then doing something good about it so yeah this year was harder than we’d hoped for, [but] I love this, I love what we are doing right now. I don’t love to lose, but I love the work that we get when we clearly identify something we need to improve and getting our heads down and working on that issue, going out testing or whatever it is and feeling we have taken a step forward.
“I love that part of being a racing driver and being a part of a racing team.”
And what about if the team had started in the way they’d finished? Would we be talking to ‘two-time World Champion’ Timmy Hansen?
“Who knows?” he says with a laugh. “I think Johan [Kristoffersson] would have still been very hard to beat, but who knows? Rallycross can be tough, we would have definitely been closer anyway.
“We were not far away from winning the teams’ championship so if we had had the car we had at the end of the year when we began, [I’m] quite sure we would have been teams’ champions at least. But we can’t change what’s in the past.”