Interview: Liam Doran
Why the British ace is aiming to simplify things in 2016 to get back to the front. By Hal Ridge ONE STEP BACK TO TAKE TWO FORWARDS
Age: 28 From: Winkleigh, Devon 2015: World RX as team-mate to Petter Solberg in the SDRX team, but car run by LD Motorsports. Qualified twice for the semi-finals. Finished 16th overall. Raced at X Games but retired.
2014: Ran Monster Energy World RX Team in World Rallycross Championship. Had race licence suspended and missed five events.
2013: Set up LD Motorsports. Ran two-car team in Euro RX. Won twice, one other podium. Fifth overall in ERX points. Won Gold medal in the X Games (Munich) in a Prodrive Mini. 2012: Set up own team with M-technologies with new Citroen DS 3. Won final round of Euro RX in Germany, three other podiums. Second in points.
2011: Secured Monster Energy sponsorship for ERX, Citroen C4 run by Kenneth Hansen. Finished seventh overall. Won X Games (Los Angeles) Gold medal in Rally Car Racing category. Won MSA British Rallycross GP at Croft.
2010: Joined Kenneth Hansen’s Euro RX team in a Citroen C4. Won twice, third in points.
2009: Won three British Championship events in a Ford Fiesta, second in points behind his father Pat. Made first European championship start at Lydden Hill. Took fourth in Euro RX in Czech Republic. Finished in 15th overall.
2008: Ford RS200 Supercar in British RX, eighth overall.
2007: Supermodified rallycross in a rear-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta in three events; one podium.
2005-2006: Stock Hatch rallycross in a Citroen Saxo. Best finish fourth, Lydden Hill in ’05.
2002/03: Junior Rallycross Championship in 1000cc Mini, sixth overall, one podium. Drove prototype in Lydden Hill demo ’02.
Every sport needs its heroes and villans. It builds the drama of any on- or off-track conflicts, keeps the public’s attention and ultimately provides the kind of sporting narrative that puts it slap bang in the middle of the spotlight.
And Britain’s only full-time racer in the FIA World Rallycross Championship could be described as being right at the heart of that. He might not have had the recent success he deserves, but he has never been far away from the centre of the drama – be that for good or bad reasons.
Liam Doran was one of, if not the, first trans-continentally recognised rallycross drivers. The Brit didn’t see the recent growth of the sport and convert from circuit racing or rallying – he has been competing in rallycross since he could first drive a car.
A multiple European Rallycross Championship event winner, Doran has a large fan base on both sides of the pond.
But, while popular, Doran has never been far from controversy. There are probably moments of Doran’s career, out of the car at least, which he regrets. He is considered by some as one of the bad lads of the paddock.
The British driver was forced to sit out a large part of the first year of World RX in 2014 after his racing licence was suspended while an incident that took place at the British round was investigated.
In the Lydden Hill incident, Doran had an altercation with officials after going onto the racetrack to attend to his father Pat, whose Ford RS200 had caught fire in a Group B demonstration race. With that resolved, he returned for the final round in Argentina.
Having written 2014 off, Doran decided to concentrate on one car instead of the three his LD Motorsport team ran in 2014 and returned with great intentions for 2015.
He joined Petter Solberg in the SDRX team, although both drivers ran their own operations independently.
While Solberg won events and claimed his second consecutive world title, Doran only made the semi-finals on two occasions, and didn’t once feature in the final. Arguably, 2015 was Doran’s worst season ever. Some may suggest that the son of multiple British champion Pat Doran simply didn’t run his LD Motorsports team well enough or that he doesn’t have the drive and determination to run at a competitive level any longer.
However, what isn’t questionable is Doran’s natural ability behind the wheel. When he first signed for Kenneth Hansen’s Citroen team in 2010, he took on the most successful rallycross driver ever, almost beat the Swede in the championship and even taught the old dog new tricks. That talent hasn’t been able to shine since the formation of World RX, and Doran doesn’t disagree that 2015 was a season to forget.
“I could list off at least 10 different scenarios that shouldn’t have happened this year but did,” he says. “I started the year in trouble with the FIA and had to rebuild my car between races. From there it never got better.
“We’ve had engine problems, reliability problems with components on the car that have never let us down before – every weekend there’s been something. I’ve learnt a lot, mainly how to deal with problems and how to stay motivated. Last year I just got told I couldn’t drive, but this year I’ve been able to try and drive but haven’t been able to make it work. It can’t get any worse, that’s for sure.”
Despite his troubles, Doran says he’s still motivated to continue, and that he has had to look no further than across the SDRX awnings to see how things should work in World RX.
“To stay motivated and to still feel like I want to carry on is a good thing, because I do sometimes question whether it’s worth it,” he says. “This year I’ve learnt how important it is to have the equipment and the team around you. Petter’s shown that his team and reliability is what’s given him the results to win the world championship, and mine has been the opposite.
“It’s not my team’s fault – I’m not blaming the guys, but the car and performance we’ve had has just not been anywhere close to performing where we need to be. If I carry on, I won’t do it with my own car and my own team.
“It’s got to the point now that even though there are amateur teams in World RX, they are run at a factory level. My team isn’t being run at a factory level. For sure I could compete in Euro RX with my team but I don’t want to go backwards.”
The Brit believes his best times as a driver came mostly with Hansen in 2010/11, and with Prodrive at the X Games in 2013 where he won Gold medal in Munich with the British firm’s Mini.
“Probably the best moments of my career were with Kenneth,” Doran adds. “I owe a lot to him. It was the right way to do things and now 75 per cent of the drivers in the paddock are doing what I was doing then. My two best years were in 2010 with Kenneth, and 2013 with Prodrive. That tells you a story – both times it wasn’t my car. I suppose I should have worked it out a little bit sooner.”
In 2013, Doran set up LD Motorsports for the European Championship, and ran a pair of Citroen DS 3s for himself and Andreas Bakkerud. Both drivers won twice and the team ended the year with the most victories of any team. The 2014 season was set to be even better but running three cars full-time (and then Doran’s licence suspension) took its toll and the team didn’t deliver.
Doran continued to run his own car last year as part of SDRX, but feels that now is the time to look elsewhere: “I had a great year in 2013 with my own team, so I couldn’t give up then, but I think it’s time to take it on the chin and acknowledge that even though I’d love my own team to work, it’s not doing what I need it to do. I need to go back to just thinking about the driving.”
As part of his wild boy facade, onlookers could suggest that not only has Doran lost the desire and drive to succeed, but perhaps also the ability to drive the car.
The man himself argues that his mentality is quite the opposite from that claim, and he is putting in considerable effort this year. To his credit, Doran is now in the same physical shape as when he first raced in Euro RX full-time.
“I’ve worked hard at a lot of things; my fitness, my family and the things that can also make a big difference to how you perform,” he says. “I feel I’ve done my bit in that way.
“I know I can still drive – I know that for sure. I’ve proven in the last half of the championship in 2015 that I can do the lap times and put the heat times in, but unless you do that every heat you don’t get into the semis. It takes more than just the speed.
“I’m not going to give up yet. Some people would probably argue with me and say it’s not worth carrying on. I feel like it is and I’m going to do my best.”
Doran would like to continue working with world champion Solberg next season: “I think Petter and I work well together so far and if I performed to the level he has this year we would be very strong in the teams’ championship. Petter sees that and he’s trying to help me. Hopefully we can get something together where I can drive one of his cars or something. I’m going to work as hard as I can to get a deal together so I can just concentrate on the driving again like I used to.
“There are opportunities at factory level in the GRC [American-based Global Rallycross Championship], which isn’t something I particularly want to go and do. I feel like I need to go back to basics and, no matter where I am and what I’m doing, I need to do it right to get the results. My passion and dream is to win the world championship.”
As the World Rallycross Championship continues to grow, so does the need for a British driver competing at the front. If Doran can find the drive he wants, he could still be that man.