“That was one of our strong decisions and so there was never really any doubt with that, but it was only ever going to be as good as it can be when it’s going…”
Liam Doran and RX Cartel’s decision to ditch the World Rallycross Championship-winning Audi S1 for the Prodrive-developed Renault Mégane R.S. RX, run by GC Kompetition, was a positive move on paper. Doran had showed strongly during partial World and Americas Rallycross campaigns in the car in 2018, while team-mate Andreas Bakkerud had been rapid in tests as well.
“Part of the reason for choosing to go with the team was the car, [and] the car’s potential,” Doran tells DirtFish. “I knew the potential from driving it before and it suits my driving style better than the Audi.”
But so far the Renault has been less revelation, more reprobate. Bakkerud and satellite entrant Anton Marklund have managed to salvage the odd strong result, but things have been less positive for Doran.
“It’s not down to luck, it’s down to reliability,” says the Briton. “It’s stuff that’s repeatedly going wrong.”
Out of the 12 heat races so far in 2020, held at Höljes and Kouvola, Doran’s survived just four of them. Of those eight retirements, half were a result of propshaft failures. Rounds three and four were a step forward for Doran and the GCK-led RX Cartel team, but ultimately results still weren’t forthcoming.
“The team worked really hard, everyone worked really hard to try and make a big difference between rounds one and two to three and four. Both days, if I hadn’t have had the failures I would’ve qualified easily.”
A strong start on Saturday at Kouvola was quickly derailed by failures, while on Sunday the morning ended with a fantastically dominant display, but it wasn’t enough to make up for a slow Q1 (where he ran on dry tires in the wet) and a retirement in Q2 when he lost a wheel. It was enough to get points on the board though, at last.
“I’m happy but I would’ve really loved to have the car perform in Finland because I really like the track and I knew I had ultimate speed there,” he said.
Despite his struggles so far in 2020, Doran remains positive about his prospects. His fellow Mégane runners have both made finals, Marklund even making the podium in the season opener until a post-race adjudication took his silverware away.
What’s more, when things have gone Doran’s way, the raw pace has been there too. Both of which give the X Game gold medallist and European Rallycross event-winner hope going forward.
“The boys are showing good pace and I am as well when the car’s working so there’s no real doubt in that,” Doran says.
“We need more time in the car because we’re definitely lacking time in the car and I need more seat time in the events because obviously I’m lacking massively on actual event running time because I’m missing out on half the event, half the racing if not more than half so to be able to still go and set top five times, I’m comfortable with.
“I expect that I should be able to do it anyway but a lot of things have got to line up together to achieve that. But no, it’s good that I have been able to, it [the pace] is still there, the drive’s still there, the confidence is still there, but it is frustrating nonetheless.”
After back-to-back double-headers, there’s now three weeks between Finland and the next pair of rounds at Riga in Latvia. That presents an excellent opportunity to continue work on fixes and improvements.
Doran made the final there last year, and was a semifinalist in the Mégane during 2018, and while the track might not be as much to his liking as the one in Finland, he’s counting on that previous running to help him.
“I’ve driven the car quite a lot, I did an event in 2018 in this car and test afterwards so [I’ve] got a quite good bit of set-up experience in the car. So that’s a positive, but it’s not exactly my style of track. I’m okay there, I’ve performed there.
“Latvia might be a bit more of a struggle [for me] because it’s a bit more of a circuit racing-style track, it’s high, high grip and very, very smooth circuit racing-style track. [But] I’ve done well there in the past.
“Just because I don’t necessarily like the track doesn’t mean it has to go badly.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season though, Doran admits that the constantly evolving competitive landscape in World RX means that judging where the team expects to perform best is tough, but one event on the remaining schedule – the recently rearranged return to Spa-Francorchamps – he highlights as being a potential high point.
“It’s hard to gauge where we’re going to be against the others. The car suits certain tracks, my driving suits certain tracks. Spa will be one of course. My driving suits Spa, this car will suit Spa better than the Audi did so I would’ve thought we’ll be more competitive than we were even last year.
“I’m not sure where else really, I haven’t really thought about it to be honest,” he admits. “I’m just trying to get through where we are now to be honest and get things moving the way they should because it’s hard to look forward when things are going so miserably.”