Fri 22 Sep 2023

“We really didn’t like each other that season...”

Cape Town 2019 will live long in the memory for Timmy Hansen. It was the weekend when he realised his dream of becoming FIA World Rallycross Champion, following an acrimonious finale that saw the Swede and arch-rival Andreas Bakkerud end up equal on points. To say that the pair did not see eye-to-eye that day would be an understatement, but looking back now, four years on, Hansen recognises that their bitter rivalry elevated the sport to another level...

First, though, let’s go back to the start. Following an inexorable rise from 2014 to 2018 – gaining a huge following all around the globe – World RX suffered a hammer blow when Peugeot, Audi and Volkswagen all simultaneously withdrew from the championship, leaving the series entirely in the hands of private teams. There was a great deal of uncertainty over what would come next. The answer was arguably the best season so far.

“After the manufacturers left, we didn’t even know if it would be possible for us to get to the start-line in 2019,” Hansen recollects. “So many of us had been racing for the factory teams before, and suddenly those factories were gone. Peugeot Sport had run our team in 2018. We had nothing, so we had to find the money ourselves and put everything together over the course of a crazy winter.

“We worked pretty much every waking hour, but this is what we all love and we don’t give up. No matter what gets thrown at us, quitting is not an option. Good stories are inspirational, but it’s when things get tough that you really need to show what you’re capable of. We lodged our championship entry at the very last moment – it felt like a victory just getting to the grid, and then obviously our story had the perfect ending...”

The momentum during the campaign ebbed-and-flowed. Hansen and Bakkerud clashed in the Abu Dhabi curtain-raiser, enabling the younger Hansen brother, Kevin, to steal an early march. The former RX Lites and FIA European Rallycross Champion held sway at the summit of the standings until Timmy supplanted him following victory in round four at Silverstone, but it was Kevin who was back on top after the siblings’ home event at Höljes.

All the time, Bakkerud and his Audi were lurking, and the Norwegian triumphed at Trois-Rivières in the summer before narrowly grabbing the championship lead at Lohéac. Consecutive victories in France and Latvia, however, put Timmy Hansen back in charge heading to Cape Town – a single point ahead of Bakkerud, with Kevin Hansen similarly still well in contention at just seven points further adrift again.

Going into the final in South Africa, there was still next-to-nothing to choose between the elder Hansen and Bakkerud – a mere two points, less than the difference between first and second place, with the pair sharing the front row of the grid, Hansen on pole. And then on lap one, everything came to a head...

“2019 was a fantastic season for the fans to follow, with super-tough competition, an incredibly close battle the whole way through and such a dramatic ending,” Hansen reflects. “It was a great story, with three drivers absolutely at the top of our game. In the end, it came down to me versus Andreas, but Kevin was always there, too – he led the way for a lot of the season through being super-solid and super-strong.

“I felt pretty good going into the final in Cape Town, and that our destiny was in our own hands. I was fully focussed and in the zone and I knew what I had to do. We were confident we had the pace, but what I hadn’t planned on was Andreas beating me off the line at the start – or the result ending up in the stewards room!

“When we knew we had won, it was just an unbelievable feeling – one that I will never experience again, even if I win more titles. We put every single heartbeat into that championship battle and when it came down to the wire in Cape Town, that was the peak of all our energy just focussed on that one single goal. It was all or nothing for us, and that day, in a city that I love, my dream – what I’d been working towards my whole career – came true.

“What the three of us and our teams did in 2019 really brought World RX back to life after the manufacturers left. Andreas and I didn’t like each other much during the season, but for the show and the fans, it was great. It’s obviously very different in the moment, but looking back now, I’m thankful to him for that great rivalry – we created something really special.”

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