Susann Hansen has spoken of her pride at seeing talented young female drivers climbing the ladder in rallycross in recent years, and as we continue to celebrate International Women’s Day this week, the discipline’s ‘First Lady’ forecasts ‘a bright future’ for the sport.
Susann cites her parents – Thord and Lilian Bergvall – as her own inspirations. Her father participated in the entry-level Scandinavian category of ‘folkrace’, and no sooner had his ambitious daughter turned 18 and secured her driving licence, than she was following in his footsteps.
“We lived in the countryside, so I loved driving and the freedom it gave me,” she recollects. “My parents helped me to start competing in folkrace, and after a while, we created a small rallycross team, where my dad and I shared the car. He was very good at everything he tried – motorbikes, cars or trucks. He was a big talent, and we had good times as a family going to races together.”
It soon became apparent that Thord Bergvall was not the only skilled driver in the household, as Susann clinched the ERA 1400 Cup crown (for Group N cars up to 1,400cc) in 1994 – in so doing, making history and breaking the mould as the first woman ever to win a European Rallycross Championship title.
In the meantime, however, something even more significant had happened. Five years earlier, the Swede had met fellow competitor Kenneth Hansen, who was on his way to the first of a record-breaking 14 European Championship triumphs – the rest, as they say, is history.
“When I met Kenneth, I not only found the love of my life and the father to my children, but also my biggest supporter,” she reflects. “Sometimes I think he believed in me and my abilities as a rallycross driver more than I did, having always fought a hard battle with my self-confidence.
“I’m fortunate to be able to do all this with my family. Having had an amazing journey in rallycross with Kenneth as we built up our team, we are now happy to run the team with [sons] Kevin and Timmy as drivers. That also means big responsibility. It means many challenges and many opportunities. It means I get to work with extremely talented people, and I just love to see good people do what they do best – to give them a platform to grow and shine is the biggest reward.”
The team to which she refers is obviously multiple World Championship-winning outfit Hansen Motorsport – the most successful squad rallycross has ever known. Susann hung up her helmet at the end of the 1995 season, since when she has shifted her focus to managing and developing the family-run operation.
“It was my own decision to stop driving, because I felt I’d accomplished what I wanted to,” she explains. “I had a dream of racing on the international stage, and I had done that and even won the championship, so I was satisfied with what I’d done. Taking that decision wasn’t difficult because I knew I’d still be involved with the team, working in a competitive environment – and I really looked forward to that new role.”
It is one she has made her own, artfully co-ordinating every aspect of Hansen Motorsport’s activities. Ever forward-focussed, Susann is now the driving force behind the team’s long-term environmental and sustainability strategy, and having achieved so much both on and off-track, she hopes other women will tread the path she has forged by carving out successful careers in the sport themselves.
“I’ve been a driver, mechanic and now team manager, and whilst I have had a few women with me in the team through the years, 90 per cent of the people have been men,” she muses. “Saying that, there are many different career opportunities in rallycross as it has become more and more professional since I began, and while the gender ‘revolution’ has taken time, I do think change is slowly coming.
“With the new promoter, I hope World RX opens up for women and girls to see rallycross as a good place to work. It is still a small sport, but I believe it has a bright future and I have been lucky enough to meet some female drivers lately and they make me so proud and happy. I relate so much to them. They are extraordinary people with a commitment and passion that I can only admire.
“It is healthy when we have diversity and with more women involved in rallycross – as stewards, marshals, mechanics, engineers, drivers, managers and media – this sport will be better and stronger than ever.”