LIAM DORAN: THE COMEBACK KID
A few months ago Rallycross360 had the opportunity to sit down with accomplished rallycross driver, Liam Doran, a.k.a "The British Bomb". Midway through the 2018 season Doran joined GC Kompetition (GCK) after former GCK driver, Jerome Grosset-Janin and the team parted ways. Doran began piloting the Renault Megane RS in round eight of FIA World Rallycross Championship at Loheac (France) and continued with the team in Latvia, United States, and Germany. Although he was scheduled to race in the final round of the season in South Africa, he was unable to compete due to extensive damage to the car inflicted while in Germany. The team was unable to repair the car in time for the race at Killarney.
Doran opened up about his struggles prior to his infamous ban from racing and his struggles and soul searching during the ban. He described his path back into racing and how he connected with the GCK team.
RX360: You grew up in racing, but when did you know that it was the path you wanted to follow?
LD: My story basically starts long before I was even around. My dad was a professional racing drivers so I was born into the racing environment and was always around it growing up so that was how I got my knowledge. I started racing when I was 14 so knowing when it was something I wanted to do, I guess it was from the start. My dad did it so it was pretty much my dream to do it as well. However, much to my dads disgust, he really tried his hardest to steer me away from it because it's a bit like an addictive drug, it's hard work, it's a very hard path to run and it can be tough not to mention it's expensive and hard to find the budget to do it because there are a lot of challenges that come about with racing. He had been through a lot of challenges trying to stay in racing and didn't want me to go down the same path. He tried to steer me away but it had worked in the opposite from what he had hoped and steered me more towards it and drove me harder making me more committed to try and prove him wrong and that I could do it.
RX360: Were you rebelling? LD: I don't think it was being a rebel. I think at the time I didn't know he was looking out after my best interests. I just thought he was being a boring old dad and didn't want me to do it because he did it. RX360: It wasn't just about the driving? LD: No, it's the support packages, the resources and the mentality because driving the car is a very small part.
RX360: A few years ago you hit a little bump in the road professionally, have you learned or changed from that experience? LD: Yeah, there's a lot more to that story than people know but admittedly I went through a pretty rough time in terms of the teams I was driving for and some other stuff, definitely not in my personal life but specifically in my racing career. I went through a very rough stage where it just wasn't working and as much as I wanted it to work, I couldn't make it work. The driving couldn't happen because I was struggling so bad with the team and the car I was driving so it ended up going very badly. I didn't want to be driving at the back. I didn't want to be racing and not competing and, yet, that's what I was doing. I didn't want to be there and as far I was concerned that was the end of the racing for me. I just stopped doing it. I couldn't find the right team, couldn't find the right car and with racing there's a lot about the sport package. It's not just about how good of a driver you are. RX360: Was that one of the biggest realizations, "It's not just about how good of a driver you are"? LD: Looking back, in terms of my career, it was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me and I know that probably sounds kind of strange to say but before, I didn't want to be where I was. I took it for granted and I wasn't enjoying it in any shape or form. Some people thought it was so strange because I got to race a car but when you are a competitive person, as you have to be to win a race and your not winning, you don't want to be there. If you're fighting and have a chance, that's one thing but when it's always going bad and you know you haven't got a chance then, for me, I'd rather not do it and just watch from the side. I've never been one to make up the numbers and so I stepped back, stepped out of it and got banned for two years which meant I couldn't race anymore. However, looking back now it is the best thing that could've ever happened to me because it made me hit the reset button, I had no choice. I probably wouldn't have stopped driving because I loved it, it was my passion but I didn't enjoy it. RX360: Why did you continue if you were so unhappy? LD: The problem was that I had the sponsors in place and I just kept going and deteriorating further and further and I probably wouldn't have stopped because I just kept believing that I could fix it. I kept believing that I could make it better and believing I could get back to the front. I probably would have never of stopped so, believe it or not, that happening forced me to stop and forced me to hit, like I said, the reset button. RX360: When did you decide it was time to come back? LD: I wasn't planning to come back but I had a little bit of a go earlier this year (Silverstone with ARX series) and then decided that it was just too much work, too much investment of time, money and effort to warrant trying to fight back to the front because obviously I'm at the back because I haven't done it for a long time and it was going to be a big challenge to get out in the front, so I gave up. I literally sold half of my stuff. I had my own cars, team and everything and put all of that up for sale and went to work . I got myself a day job and I haven't had a day job, oh I don't know, I've been racing professionally for six years so I haven't had a day job since then and had only been working with a race team as my job. The first year I stopped driving I ran my race team so I was still involved in motorsports but eventually I decided I didn't want to be involved because if I wasn't racing then I didn't want to be involved, so I stopped. Then the phone call happened asking me if I wanted to come drive this car for GCK.
RX360: Why you and how did you connect with GCK? LD: I know everyone involved on the team. The team itself were Prodriver's and the team that programmed me in 2013 which is probably my most successful year to date in my career. Financially it just wasn't viable for me so I just couldn't keep it going and make it carry on but I had a massively good relationship with them and appreciated everything they did for me. We work well together but it was never really possible to keep it going because like we say in motorsports, it's a lot about the money and then everything else. So, I had that relationship with them and also a relationship with GCK and they ended up calling me. I had been speaking to them last year and they couldn't make it happen to get me in a car early on in the season and I sort of waved off the deal completely and didn't think it was ever going to happen. Then all of the sudden they were like, do you want to come drive it and I was like, yeah that would be great! It was just a test to see how we get on, then they called me later in the week and said right, it's not a test, come to the races. They said we're committed and we wanted me to have a go and see how I get on and it couldn't have gone any better. RX360: Do you feel this is a good fit? LD: It's a great team, great operation, great car and a great situation for me to be in because its a situation I've never been in before where I'm just the driver. I'm another one of the guys. It was always my own deal because I was always the boss with my team and it was going wrong. I come here and now here it's going right and I'm just the driver. The pressure is off, I can enjoy it and it's the most fun I've had in racing as long as I can remember. It's gone better than I had ever hoped but not going as brilliantly as my dreams and as well as I had presumed in past. But to go from where I was to where I am now is what is making it enjoyable. To have that huge step forward from where I was has been a massive surprise to most people in the paddock. RX360: Would you say that you have refocused? LD: It turns out that it was never me, well partially me but .....I'm not knocking anything I had then but with a good team I have been able to refocus. In terms of my mind, growing up a bit more and a couple of a years later with two children who are three and four years old and were barely born when it went wrong has made me grow up and refocus. I've learned my lessons and now I've been put in a much better situation. RX360: You've done really well with regard to overcoming a bad or negative situation. Can you talk about that? LD: Yeah, to be here and as much as it looked like it wasn't going to happen, I think it has. I didn't know if it was going to happen but I thought I would give it a go but everyone else was like, hey you can't come back here and compete against these boys. Everybody in the top who is racing now in the front, I have raced against in the past and beaten at some point in my career. I Just thought they couldn't have gotten that much better and I couldn't have gotten that much worse, I don't know. Maybe I have or maybe I haven't got much worse but at it turns out I actually haven't gotten much worse and maybe I just didn't have the focus and situation around me that I needed. Now I'm in a good situation with good people and team around me and I'm able to do what I'm good at which is the driving. Define the meaning of comeback kid because it definitely would be that. I've had nothing but positive feedback from everyone which has been great. I've always had a fairly strong fan base but haven't always had a massively supportive fan base. I've always had quite a big following but there was always a lot of critics versus a lot of supporters but since these last couple of events I've come back, I haven't seen or heard one critic. It's almost like I've proven everyone wrong and that I've proven a point. People seem to be happy to see it happening,
RX360: You seem to be very humbled and very appreciative in your social media posts..... LD: I am [humbled and appreciative] because it didn't take me long to realize the ban from racing is what I needed, and to get this opportunity now is amazing. Now I'm able to go home and think about home life and think about work life. RX360: So what are the plans for next year? LD: The reason we are doing what we are doing this year is for the future. We wouldn't be doing this now with me racing if we didn't have that big of a picture planned but we haven't worked it all out yet, we are taking one event at a time as long as it keeps going the way it's going, I've been improving, the car has been improving, the whole team has been improving and as long as we keep that same momentum I think the plan is to drive a full program next year. So I'm working on it, my people are working on it and obviously the whole team is working on it with the thought process that we will race permanently next year and rather than just being a come back kid, I'm just trying to have a quick go at with the hope of coming in at a top level and compete for championship points. I think I've proven that I can do it and the team has proven they can do it. With a little more luck on our side and a little more seat time, we can do it. As a whole, there so many positives versus the negatives, and like you said, I have been quite humbled and appreciative and that's the truth. Without the opportunity I've been given I wouldn't be here now, I'd be sitting at home watching it on television because up until earlier this year, that's where I was at. I wasn't racing anymore and I decided there was no point it wasting my time anymore and I wasn't achieving anything by doing it so I just watched and now here I am doing it again. RX360: Is there a reason you raced in the ARX series back in September at COTA instead of the World Rallycross series alongside Guerlain? LD: I raced ARX was strategic for the team, it was more beneficial for the team in terms of performance. If I raced outside of the box in another box and relayed all my information back to the team in the main box, I was in a situation where I could race with a lot less pressure because everyone qualifies, I can take risks, I can push a lot harder and try things they can't afford to try because even if I make loads of mistakes, I still qualify. Whereas, If they make one mistake, they're out. I'm the one pushing forward on the performance of the car, to find the limits and that's why they brought me in, to try and find that limit which we've obviously proven quite quickly. I was quite happy to be there (COTA), in that class. I raced at ARX Silverstone off my own back, so I was definitely happy to race there but there is a thought process as to why we didn't have three cars in the World Championship and having only two in World Championship and one in ARX. We were on the same track but I could push really hard to find improvements all the time. Feedback to them helped them go faster and managed to help them get good results for the team. RX360: Are there any other types of racing you would like to do? LD: I love short course off-road. I did two or three tests after X Games 2011 and raced one race about five or six years ago and it was the experience in my entire life, the most fun I've ever had even though it hasn't got the media strength or the commercial strength it requires. A lot of the teams are self-funded and sponsors are hard to come by but it deserves to be the most famous sport in the world. It is the coolest thing I have ever done in my entire life. Rallycross is cool, it is a lot of fun, it's crazy, and it's fast but short course tracks are absolutely wild. So if there's any other discipline I could do, it would be that. RX360: Are you more dirt or tarmac? LD: I'm more of an aggressive driver. I'm more of a very sideways, flamboyant, fun driver. I can do the fast and tidy stuff but I love the dirt, driving sideways and jumps.
RX360: We probably know your answer to the next question, but we don't want to assume. What do you think of electric rallycross gaining momentum? LD: Well let's go with your assumption. I love rallycross because it's crazy, wild, and fast. Electric will be fast but it won't be crazy or wild and I love short course off-road because of the noise, the sound and the feeling you get from the rumbling V8 engines with no silencers. It's just nuts and that's real America, that is. But with electric, I just have no interest in it. I understand it and I get it completely and I see where it's going but it's not for me. Anyone could see that it's not my style. RX360: What's the best racing advice you've ever received?
LD: Something I have learned very recently and that is to appreciate every single minute of what you get to do and if you're racing a car, never take it for granted, never think you're not lucky and never not appreciate it because it's something millions of people would love to do. Whether it's going good or bad, fun or misery, you're lucky. If things are going wrong just sit back, reset and have a bit of a rethink, re-plan and restructure and don't ever give up.
Photo credit: Rallycross360 - Photo's 1,2,4
Photo 3, photographer unknown