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TG chats to X-Games champ Liam Doran

  1. Liam Doran is not smiling. And he has every reason to smile, really. He’s an X-Games gold medallist. He’s sponsored by Monster Energy. Even the ruddy sun is shining. No, Liam Doran is concerned. We’re sitting in the shade on a bench at his home circuit of Lydden Hill in the deepest corner of Kent - where Jeremy, Richard and James had such fun in the last episode of series 18, don’t forget - and I have just asked him to explain the circumstances of his very recent crash at the Nürburgring in a Nissan GT-R, from which he walked away unharmed.

    “I went out to the ‘Ring with Forge Motorsport and Litchfield to do some filming and promo stuff in my R35 Nissan GT-R, and was having a really chilled out day,” he says, with a nonchalance that belies the severity of his accident.

    “Then I just got caught out.” he shrugs, in an oh-well-these-things-happen kind of way.

    Words: Vijay Pattni
    Photography: Rowan Horncastle

  2. Caught out is one way of putting it though. Trying to scrub off 100mph with cooked brakes is probably more accurate. You see, young Doran - he’s only 25 years old - tells me that once filming had been wrapped up for the day, he decided to take his cousin out for a hot lap of the ‘Ring. (“He’d never been there before”)

    And because he’d spent the day drifting around the GP circuit, the temperature of his brakes had reached levels Mephistopheles himself would object to. “I was on the main straight at around 165mph - and I don’t care what people say, or if they think I’m making excuses - but my brakes were really hot. I put my foot on the pedal and it went straight to the floor. I pumped it three or four times but nothing happened.”

  3. Such an occurrence would not only loosen one’s intestines, it could act as a looming, overbearing incentive to never get behind the wheel at speed again. But not for Liam. Somewhat tellingly, we’re sitting in the shadow of his sub-WRC spec Citroen DS3 Rallycross car; a car packing 600bhp and wings wide enough to shatter any illusions of hero-dom. He breaks off from telling me about the crash, and lets me inside his mind for a moment. “I don’t ever get scared behind the wheel”, he says, reeling off a monologue in which he reveals a true racer’s psychology, even referencing the late, great Colin McCrae.

  4. “Commitment is the most important thing. If you don’t have full trust in your ability,” he says, almost sagely, “you can’t go to the limits. You’re in your own little world when you’re racing. Everything goes slowly. Your every effort goes 100 per cent into the task in hand. You simply don’t have time to worry about how fast you’re going or what would happen if you go off.”

  5. This could go some way to explaining why 2012 is his busiest year to date. After practically teaching himself to race (“nobody taught me, so I’d drive whatever I could get my hands on - cars, lawnmowers, forklifts, you name it”), he started off in the ‘smallest Mini in the lowest class’ and just worked his way up. This year, not only is he competing in the European Rallycross season in that superbly tricked out DS3 (backed by Citroen), he’s also returning to the X Games in California later this year; the scene of his astonishing triumph where he claimed two of the biggest scalps you can imagine: Marcus Gronholm and TG USA’s very own Tanner Foust.

  6. “Me and Tanner are good friends, actually. I get on with him really well.” Liam is smiling a bit now. Good. “I chill out with him when I go to America, but we’ve got this rivalry that’s built up. We’re very evenly matched - and because of that, we’re always near each other on track - and we’re sponsored by different energy drinks.

    “I beat him at the X Games last year, he’s beaten me a couple of times in the European championship, it’s a bit to and fro”, he says. But don’t mistake his nonchalance for arrogance, he’s acutely aware of who he’s beaten. “I’m just a kid who has overnight just accidentally fallen into this position.

    “Ken Block, Tanner Foust, Marcus Gronholm, Travis Pastrana - these are massive names and I still get star struck around them.”

  7. Not that he has time to get star struck, mind. Along with the X Games, European Rallycross and a simply mentalist sport known as the Lucas Off Road Racing Series (“You drive a racing truck over stuff. It’s insane. It’s just pure aggression”), he’s also competing in one of the world’s oldest and most famous races: Pikes Peak.

    “Monster were looking for someone to sponsor, and I just threw my name into the hat. Somehow, they trusted me enough to do it.” His dad - Rallycross legend Pat Doran (“I can beat him”) - has also put a considerable amount of faith onto Liam’s young shoulders too, in the form of his Ford RS200 Pikes contender.

  8. “I’m running my dad’s car, and it’s the sister car to the one he had years ago. He saw it come up for sale and so rather than anyone else ruining it, he snapped it up. Although giving it to me probably isn’t the best way of ‘not ruining it’.

    “It weighs 980kgs and it’s got 950bhp, which means 0-60mph in about 1.5 seconds and a top speed of 180mph,” Liam recites, utterly deadpan. Surely, surely, this legendary Group B beastie is powerful enough to finally give him some kind of fear? “It worries me that its so aggressive, but its such a buzz to drive. It’s like an old tractor, and it’ll definitely be the biggest challenge of my career.”

  9. A career that very nearly saw a dramatic end just a couple of weeks ago. We tread carefully back to his crash in the GT-R. “So I’m doing around 160mph and put my foot on the brake pedal and it went straight to the floor. I somehow managed to scrub off some marginal speed, because the point of impact was 120mph. I realised we were going to crash and - without panicking - made the decision to flick the car around and go into the barriers backwards.”

  10. “Of course, if anything had happened to my cousin I never would have gone racing again, it’s as simple as that. It hasn’t knocked my confidence at all because I knew I made the best of that situation.

    “Put it this way. If I had gone in forwards, I wouldn’t be talking to you now.”

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