Motorsport is not renowned for its environmental friendliness. But it doesn’t have to be that way. World Rallycross’s (World RX) Hansen Motorsport has become the first racing team in its class to reach carbon neutral status. As World RX heads to Mettet, Belgium, this weekend, I talked to the family-run group about what it means to have environmental goals in a sporting genre that has traditionally been steeped in fossil fuels.
“We have always had a sense of nature’s value,” says Susann Hansen, the matriarch of the team and an accomplished racing driver herself. “We have seen things happening around us that make us believe that climate change is real. It affects us daily. In Sweden, we talk about remembering what winter was like, back in the day. We live in the countryside, so we have a very close relationship to nature and the freedom and values that it gives you for human wellbeing. We had an environmental perspective policy without knowing we did due to our lifestyle. Then when the Coronavirus happened, we had a lot of time, and we also were in discussion about going electric with World RX. We wanted to show how this could contribute to a healthier future. So that is how the whole journey started.”
“Now we have the certification,” adds Susann Hansen. The team has achieved environmental accreditation from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the latter’s Race to Zero campaign, ISO 14001, and the FIA’s Three-Star program. “There are systems that need to be in place so you can compare different companies and you should be able to compare what you do from one year to another. We started to measure our emissions. We’ve seen there is big room for improvement. It’s a natural step when you want the best for nature. You don’t want to suffocate someone you love. We discovered we could work with ALLCOT and find somewhere to compensate for the damage we do to nature by still driving vehicles that have emissions.”
“We don’t intend to continue with carbon offsetting forever,” adds driver Kevin Hansen. “Our goal is to cut all the emissions and all the impact we have. But carbon offsetting is a step on the way for us to support a sustainable future.” Through ALLCOT, Hansen Motorsport chose to support the Piedra Larga Wind Farm II in Mexico, allowing the team to offset 279,000 kg of CO2. “That is a good step. But our goal is to become Net Zero. It’s important to understand the difference between Net Zero and Carbon Neutral. Carbon Neutral is doing offsetting, so you have emissions in your company, and you buy credit to support new carbon-reducing programmes to counteract those. But Net Zero is where you don’t even have emissions in the first place. That would mean running renewable energy in race cars, in logistic vehicles, in all our transport flights. There should never be an emission from our work as a race team. That is our goal. Our slogan is: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Between 2019 and 2022, Hansen Motorsport managed to reduce its carbon footprint by 57.9%. “That was a great step,” says Kevin Hansen. “Going further won’t be easy, though, because 60% of our emissions are from transport – flights, trucks, and stuff like this. It’s very difficult to find a solution for Net Zero transport right now. So we thought that the best we can do is get this carbon offsetting credit. From this point, we will keep offsetting every year until we reach Net Zero.”
Carbon offsetting has a slightly controversial reputation, as some see it as “greenwashing”. But it does at least provide a stopgap option in situations like Hansen Motorsport’s where alternatives don’t yet exist. “ALLCOT has different programmes around the world where you can support innovative projects to receive credit,” says Kevin Hansen. “ALLCOT offers different costs depending on which project you go for. If you go for hydrogen power, it may be a bit more expensive. Wind farms are more mid track. There’s a certain price for one tonne of carbon offsetting. We then get a certificate that we have done this offsetting and the wind power plant has received it.”
While the transportation of racing cars and teams to each event is one problem for decarbonising motorsport, travelling spectators can also generate a huge amount of carbon emissions – a big problem for popular racing series like Formula 1. Extreme E reduces its footprint by using a ship to transport its team equipment and by mostly not having a physical audience. Hansen Motorsport tries to combat the spectator problem in World RX by incentivizing its fans to use low carbon means of transportation to race venues. This can even be part of the plan for publicising the need for climate change action.
“That is the power of sport, to have this opportunity to speak about the issues,” says Susann Hansen. “Motorsport is often criticised for its bad impact on the environment. We thought that that it makes so much sense to use what we have here.” Kenneth Hansen, who won the FIA European Championship for Rallycross Drivers 14 times, adds: “We were quite early, but we’ve influenced other World RX teams and the promoter. If we can convince the rest of the paddock to follow our route, then it will be an even bigger impact. We learned through the years that to lead you need some courage. We know we’re going to be criticised and they will check all the details.”
A big part of this leadership came when World RX went electric in 2022. There was a lot of scepticism about this move from fans, and the recent fire at Lydden Hill has rekindled those arguments. “Change itself doesn’t need to be bad,” says team driver Timmy Hansen. “But people don’t like change because it’s something new that they’re not used to. Obviously, with World RX there is a sound problem in the race cars.”
“Some people say they prefer the sound from the past,” continues Timmy Hansen. “I can understand that, but part of the reason why they don’t fully appreciate the electric power yet is that we haven’t put the cars side by side with internal combustion. People haven’t had the chance to see with their own eyes how fast these cars are. If we raced together, the electric cars would win every race because they’re so fast off the line. Even though the internal combustion cars can come near the same lap time, you need to lead the race to win the race. As drivers we feel that this is a huge step forward. That’s why it’s very easy to be hooked. You have none of the drawbacks of a fossil fuel engine like turbo lag or shifting. Now, we just have all the power whenever we need it. Or, if we ask for 10% on the pedal, we get exactly 10%. It’s much better to drive.”
“The great thing about electric is we can learn something new,” says Kevin Hansen. “We’re embarking on an era where it’s full of opportunities and things to understand and learn for engineers and drivers and fans. Regarding the sound issue, do you watch racing with your eyes closed? No, you watch it with your eyes open. Great racing is not only one sense, but about everything and we can experience cool things without having ‘bang-bang’ and high noise pitches. You can have a lot of new sensations through the electric car that you’ve never heard before. You get much closer racing and it’s so much faster, so it’s just crazy that people say electric is boring because it’s quiet. Nobody ever watches the race with their eyes closed.”
The lack of noise can even be beneficial. “We’ve been testing, and we literally could drive 24/7 If we wanted because we don’t make any noise,” says Timmy Hansen. “They had noise restrictions, but they couldn’t hear us. We drove until half past ten in the evening, flat out. When you’re close to the track, you can hear the electric engines. But you also hear other things from the car that you have never heard before with the combustion engines because they are so loud and noisy. You hear how the chassis works, how the tire works, so it’s a different sound experience. The first time you get in the car, you hear stuff that you didn’t think you were supposed to hear. The floor touching the ground often, for example, sounds horrible. But now you’ve got to use it and then you can understand more what’s going on around you from the different sounds that you hear.”
In Belgium this weekend, the main World RX series remains suspended until the fire problem at Lydden Hill has been sufficiently investigated. But the Hansen team drivers Timmy and Kevin didn’t want to miss out another weekend, so they have switched over to the support RX2e series and will compete in that against their own #YellowSquad team and its drivers Isak Sjökvist and new signing Molly Taylor. The Hansens are clearly hooked on electric racing – and its message of sustainable motorsport fun.