Susann Hansen has just been awarded the ‘Motorsport Mum’ award – something she thoroughly deserves. Back at the end of 2007 Rallycross World had lunch with Susann and found out about her busy life in motor sport and what makes tick when she’s away from the race track. The text of that story is below. You can also download the original illustrated story here.
The old saying has it that, behind every great man, there’s a great woman. In Rallycross terms it’s difficult to think of a more prominent example of this than Susann Hansen. A championship winning driver in her own right, she has settled easily into her multi-faceted role at Kenneth Hansen Motorsport and appears to blend her busy professional life seamlessly with that of being a wife and mother. With two sons now both competing in kart racing, you’d be forgiven for thinking that motor sport was the be all and end all of her life, but this busy woman also enjoys a rich and varied life away from motor sport: deliberately so far away that she can forget all about what she still regards as an abiding passion.
A fan of English pubs, the first question for lunch at my local inn is what to drink. As someone who didn’t drink until she was 30, Susann has come to appreciate wine and, as becomes clear, she is studying the subject seriously.
“I belong to a wine club where you learn about wine. You can start at a very basic level, just reading the labels and understanding what you are buying and then progress. There are four levels, I’m on the third at the moment and it gets more and more interesting.
“To understand what to combine with food, it’s not only red or white, understanding it is a big factor and you can enjoy it much more as well as appreciating the different areas that wine comes from.”
The summer break in the 2007 ERC season was a time of reflection for the Hansens. Kenneth had suffered his first major crash in the last race before the break and during the summer they were busy looking at future options for oldest son Timmy. But Susann also found time to become reacquainted with an old passion.
“I used to paint a lot and I’ve returned to it recently. I like to use water colours but I am beginning to paint with oils – slowly.
“I enjoy painting landscapes, I like to be outside and have my paints with me, spend hours. It’s a good way to spend a day, you are very focused on what you are painting so it clears your mind completely. I like to go to the west coast of Sweden, it’s a very rocky coast, sea and mountains. Quiet.
“If you meet someone there they don’t know what your work is, so you can talk about something different from motor sport – no racing cars. You need to find time of your own, even if I do love my job.”
“Motor sport is everything I know and now with Timmy and Kevin beginning to find their way in racing I love it. With the karting the routine is the same and the build up through the race meeting is similar, but it’s new people and some new places to go. Unfortunately Rallycross doesn’t change its tracks very often.
“In Rallycross we have some very good friends but in karting it’s a little different because the young boys and girls are not there for very long, the drivers are changing the whole time. Karting has been really good for us as a family, we do something that we love, but it’s different from Rallycross.
“Timmy wants to go on to racing now and that will also be something new for us, at the moment we ate trying to decide if he should stay in karting for one more year or not.”
Susann is much, much more than a racing wife, or racing mother and plays a key role win KHM both at home and when the team is at events.
“I do the administrative work in the team, the work with merchandising and run the parts business. We have not promoted that much so it could be bigger, but it’s there as something for us to do if we stop Rallycross. I work together with Kenneth on sponsorship, I make all the presentations and also look after the website. That takes quite a lot of time but I’m learning new things with that, specially about photographs. Writing the stories in English on Kenneth’s pages takes quite a long time because it’s not my first language.
“I do Timmy’s website too which is not so much work and only in Swedish at the moment, but if he does more international events we may have to change that to English also. Timmy can speak English and is learning French, it’s important in motor sport.”
“I’m the one that is responsible in the team for the computers and the data system. It’s my job to make sure that the system works and that we can download information, send files out if we need to and make sure that the data is useable for the engineers. They can read more out of it than I can, but we’ve been using data logging for more that ten-years now so I understand quite a lot about it. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work with some really good engineers who have been patient enough to teach me almost everything I know about racecars, engines, suspension, how to read the data logging. When you have teachers that are so good it gets really interesting because when you ask something you can see that they have loads and loads to teach you, and you can see their skill. They open a door on stuff that you think might be boring but is actually very important.
“Part of our agreement with Rustam Minnikhanov was that we would teach his team about the car. The cars are unique so you can’t just give it to a team and expect that it knows everything. Minnikhanov has a good team in TT Motorsport, the car is in good hands because they are very experienced and understand the need to be very careful when you are dealing with these cars. They need so much tender loving care – hours and hours just to check things.
“I do the same for TT Motorsport as I do for Kenneth, download the data files and check the details to make sure everything is normal. If something is starting to go in the wrong direction – maybe with the temperature or something then I can alert them that may have a problem with the intercooler, or something like that. Maybe it’s only a sensor, but it could also be the start of a bigger problem and they need to know it.
“It’s nice to work with another team, engineers outside our own team and to meet new people and work with them. I was a little apprehensive to begin with, I don’t much about Russia or their traditions – I didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable with a woman coming into the team telling them what to do and not to do. But it turned out very well, they were so nice with us.
“It’s not the first time we have done this, we did a similar thing with Stig-Olov Walfridsson when he rented a car from us, although now we have sold the C4 to Minnikhanov.”
This active managerial and technical role makes Susann unique within the paddock, but she does not feel like the odd one out in an environment where there are no regular female engineers.
“No there aren’t any other women working regularly, unfortunately. You know, I don’t think like that [that I may be the odd one out], I’m a human being and it makes me a little frustrated if I’m treated differently from anyone else because I’m a woman. It doesn’t feel fair. I thought about it with the Russian team because I don’t know about their culture and didn’t want to make them feel difficult.
“It was the same thing when I was driving, I didn’t want to be treated differently, good or bad, doesn’t matter sometimes they treat you better because you are a woman or sometimes worse. I don’t like having special treatment either way, I’m a human being, you’re a human being, what’s the problem?
“If there’s something that I want to pass on to my children it’s that they should meet everyone with open eyes, give everyone a chance, you don’t know the story. Meet everyone with open eyes and a warm heart.”
Born into a family of motor sport fanatics, Susann became a successful racer but says she does not miss the competition.
“I miss the driving but not the competition. I am very competitive but I’m a better team player than as an individual. I want to feel the safety of being in a team to perform well, you are naked as a driver, you are the one to blame. But to go in nice cars, fast cars sitting beside someone who knows how to treat the car is great.
“I went in a rally car with Kris Meeke when we were at Rockingham – it’s nice to be in a good car with a good driver, I told him ‘Now I remember why I love motor sport!’ It’s such an adrenaline kick, it was so nice. I hope that he gets a drive that he deserves.
“I did drive one of Kenneth’s cars but it was a long time ago, it was fun, but it is better to sit beside Kenneth because then you can feel the full potential of the car. Right now that’s better. There is a huge smile on your face after just a few metres, it makes me feel like laughing out loud.”
Having been a competitor Susann knows that a successful driver needs to be mentally well prepared, and on this score she has been impressed with Minnkhanov’s performances.
“Actually I’m impressed that he can do what he does, it makes you understand that the racing really means a big deal to him. When he is good, he is quite quick and he does have a talent. But I think his head is full of other things that need his attention, I’m impressed that he does as well as he does – I wouldn’t want to change places with him, I don’t imagine that he has time for himself and that is important to me.
“I try to take time out away from work, away from racing and when I’m with friends I try to do different things; next weekend I’m taking Timmy on a course about self belief. It’s a lecture about trusting your own feelings. It’s very easy in our work to get lost in your work because work and hobby is all the same thing – you are always thinking about work and there are not set hours, it’s very easy to become your job. I want to be Susann with all the things that I love, I don’t want to be Susann the racing woman. Of course it is a big part of my life, but I don’t it to become my whole life.
“It’s the best job I could ever imagine, it’s my passion and I really love motor sport, so don’t get me wrong there, I wouldn’t want to have spent the last 20 years any other way.
“I have lived my job in the past but I felt I was missing something, I felt that to carry on doing my job well I needed to have other interests in my life. Being artistic or expressing yourself without the need to get a result, just to do something for the creative side. You also need to be creative in motor sport, that’s the part of it that appeals to me, you need to think in new ways, to think of things before anyone else does, there is creativity in the work but it always has a goal. Being creative with pen and paper doesn’t have a goal, it’s just to do it. Hmm, very deep!”
While personal time and space is important, the philosophy is also extended to the team.
“I like to read as well, it’s relaxing to be somewhere else in a story. It’s a good thing about travelling, time to read. I like thrillers and also biographies.
“We’re getting better at making time during the travelling to do things outside of racing because we feel the whole team benefits from it.
“It’s the same as I said before that I do something else to clear my head. It’s like when you restart the computer and then it works better. So we try to do something different when we are between races because they are always in pairs, go to a nice restaurant, or see something special, we’re trying to see the countries a little more. The good part is that Rallycross goes to places that you would not normally travel too, they are not really tourist places. We also live a little of the normal life in those countries because you need to go shopping, or to the bank. You have a little taste of life there. And in a shop the woman at the check-out starts to say hello to you and…
“France is my favourite, I love France. I’ve been in Italy a lot with Timmy karting I like it there too and Portugal is nice because it’s so different. The Czech Republic was different to begin with but it’s become much more like the rest of Europe that we are used to and now Hungary and Poland are a little different. It makes you think when you go to Hungary, it’s like we can take the bus and go almost to a different time era, it’s like time travel and we speak about this a lot, that we are lucky to have it the way we have. Hungary is getting better and better, and I’m glad for them. They fell behind so much [during the communist era], but the Czech Republic, the first time we went there, 12 years ago, you could really see it had been suffering, but now there is a big difference.
“We have done the ERC for so many years that I appreciate anything new that comes in a lot, otherwise it becomes the same, the same, the same, only getting more grey hair!
“Recently we were looking at old pictures and there were some from Faleyras in France (’99), close to Saint-Emilion, that was the nicest area we have been to in France I think.
“We visited the new track at Dreux recently when we went to race at Loheac. It’s a good track and it’s very nice to see that they are working so hard there.
“But, why isn’t the French ERC race at Loheac? It has a bigger crowd than anywhere in Rallycross. We could go there in September, Portugal in September would be okay with me too. Once in a while it should change, change is good for everyone. We did the French championship race at Loheac because the organiser asked us to go, and we wanted to go because we had good memories of the place. Loheac should have the ERC, no other track in Europe can attract so many people and put on such a good show, for me it’s unbelievable that the best circuit doesn’t get the ERC. Really Loheac is an amazing event, the very best.”
Originally published in Rallycross World #47, December 2007
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