Susann Hansen is the matriarch of one of the most successful racing families in any form of motorsport. She has had success both on the track herself becoming the first female driver to win a European rallycross title in 1994, and off the track with Team Hansen, the FIA World Rallycross team founded by herself and her husband, and 14-time European Rallycross Champion, Kenneth. Having spent many years working in motorsport, there are not many people who know more about the sport than Susann, so I spoke to her about her own racing career, her role as Team Manager of Team Hansen and her advice for others.
As a child, Susann and her family lived near one of Sweden’s largest motorsport circuits. Despite this being where she spent many weekends, it wasn’t the racing that interested her at the time. “I grew up with parents that liked motorsport and we lived in a town with one of the biggest racing circuits in Sweden. I spent race weekends playing with other children under the grandstands while my parents watched the racing,” she said. Her interest in motorsport came as she got older, particularly after she got her driver’s license at the age of 18, with her starting to race not long after. “(I wasn’t interested) until I took my driver’s license and discovered how fun it was to drive cars. I was good in school and my aim was to study economics at University. Then motorsport came into my life. It wasn’t possible to race and go to school at the same time, so I chose to take a job instead to support my racing. Then Kenneth and I met and the rest is history,” Hansen told me.
It was a Swedish category in which Susann made her racing debut. “It was a motorsport series called Folkrace, which is similar to Stock Car racing I believe,” Hansen told me. As she progressed, her hopes grew with her aiming to continue up the motorsport ladder. “Folkrace is a cheaper version of rallycross so as ambition got higher, I managed to get into rallycross in a team with my father,” Susann described.
In 1994, Hansen made a breakthrough in rallycross when she became the first female driver to win a European rallycross title. Speaking of her victory, she said: “in sport, nothing comes for free and nothing can be taken for granted. Step by step, race by race, I did the best I could and, in the end, in the last race, it was enough to win the title.” Having made history, this is one of the proudest moments of her career, though a season later, Susann retired from the racing side of the sport for a reason that many will be familiar with. “I stopped after the season of 1995. The reason was just like for many others – lack of money. And we had Timmy, who was 3 years old then, and I felt like I had done what I wanted to do, so I stopped my driving career. It wasn’t worth the incredibly big job of getting sponsors and finding budget anymore,” Hansen explained.
With Susann and her husband Kenneth Hansen having started their own rallycross team which currently races in the FIA World Rallycross Championship, her attention turned to other roles she could do to support the team. “Kenneth and I had started a company to run our rallycross team. After stopping my driving career, I took on other jobs in the team. I pushed to start using data logging in Kenneth’s SuperCar and I took on the challenge of handling that and learning the systems. I did all the communication, such as writing press releases, distribution, media contacts and building the first version of our website back in 1997. I handled all sides of the hospitality in the team and sponsor contacts. In a small team you have to learn all sides of running a company, and we were a small team. It was Kenneth, myself and a mechanic. With time we grew and expanded to involve more people in different roles,” she told me.
Her role now is as the Team Manager for Team Hansen. With this comes many responsibilities covering all areas as she oversees the running of the team. “I make sure everybody knows what to do and when to do it. (I have to) be the interface between the team and external parties, such as the FIA, partners or the promotor,” Susann said. When it comes to a race weekend, there is little time to rest as she must ensure everyone is at the top of their game. “(I) try to create a good spirit in the team, to make sure everybody is safe. To make sure everybody gets the information needed to make the best job with what we have. To push, encourage, support and be there ready for any scenario that occurs. I make, for example, the time schedule, manage the team meetings, take care of media and guests and work with the sporting side of the race,” she described.
Although she now works as the Team Manager of Team Hansen, Susann has had many different roles within the team over the years and it is this past experience, as well as that of her own racing career, that helps her in her role now. “It is very valuable to me to have done and worked with most of the aspects in the team,” Hansen said. However, there are still challenges for Susann in her job and it is one that many in motorsport will relate to. “To be able to be as efficient as possibly with the budget we have,” she explained of the difficulties in the sport. However, it’s being able to overcome such challenges that brings the biggest rewards, and 2019 rates as one of the top achievements from the family’s 30 years in rallycross. “Being able to come back as a top team after the sudden withdrawal of Peugeot last year. We came back as a team; we have raced as a team and we have lived rallycross 24/7 as a team. A small team with a big dream,” Susann said.
Although having never had an interest in motorsport until she passed her driving test at the age of 18, Susann Hansen has dedicated much of her life to working in the sport. After making her racing debut in Swedish Folkrace, she went on to race in rallycross where she became the first female driver to win a European rallycross title. But her motorsport career has not only been on-track, with herself and husband Kenneth running their rallycross team, Team Hansen since its creation. Speaking of her advice for others hoping to work in motorsport, Susann said: “motorsport or any top-level sport is about living it. Feel it, breath it, want it. You need to be flexible, one week or one day is never the same. The intense work also requires recovery, make sure you recover to be able to perform on top, easy to forget when passionate about the sport.”