Liam Doran may have been the fastest qualifier at X Games Foz do Iguacu behind the wheel of a Citroen, but the 2011 X Games gold medalist isn’t one to shy away from changing marques completely if he thinks it will help him run better.
That’s exactly the case at X Games Barcelona, as Doran switches to a MINI for the first time in Global Rallycross competition. But just as significant as the new manufacturer is the team supporting him: the famed Prodrive operation, which is competing in rallycross for the very first time this weekend.
“I feel like working with Prodrive will boost my confidence and team’s capabilities,” says Doran. “I am learning a lot from Prodrive and hope they move me forward in my career. It is also very satisfying to know that a company like Prodrive has confidence in me to win events.”
The British-based organization was established in 1984 and has since seen great successes in stage rally, sports car racing, and even Formula 1. Since 2011, they have run MINIs in the World Rally Championship, even fielding cars for current OlsbergsMSE driver Patrik Sandell in two races last season. It is from that base that Doran’s car has been constructed.
“The MINI RX project is very different to anything any of the other rallycross competitors are running,” continues Doran. “It is based around a current 2013 World Rally car, which gives it huge potential advantages over a regular rallycross car. The main difference for now is that we are running a car with less power but less weight. This should work out to be competitive on X Games-style courses, where the tracks are slippery and tight.
“The team has loads of experience with the car in WRC form so this should also help in being competitive early on in the project.”
But Doran won’t be the first driver to load up with WRC-caliber artillery; Ken Block is no stranger to having similar equipment in his section of the paddock. The Hoonigan Racing Division driver has been running with the same chassis since 2011, and enjoys the support of factory WRC team M-Sport in his #43 Ford Fiesta ST.
“The biggest advantage for me is really the chassis, all of the technology put behind the chassis, and the engineers that are so used to coming to these events and working at such a high level,” he says. “All that experience comes along with the package, especially with this particular chassis, because it’s run in the World Rally Championship. They have basic setups for the car for different types of gravel and different types of tarmac. So we’re able to use all that experience to help with some basic setups of the car. And then I work from there to make it work for me for whatever situation we’re in.”
“I think it’s good that some of the World Rally Championship teams are looking at the sport,” adds Derek Dauncey, Block’s team manager, and a WRC veteran himself with the Mitsubishi team in the early 2000s. “There’s a lot of tech knowledge and experience within Prodrive and M-Sport, and we have some fantastic support from M-Sport when we built the car. We couldn’t have asked for more support from them.
“And Prodrive getting involved in the sport with Liam, that’s good for the sport as well, and the heritage—you’ve basically got a file cabinet of knowledge, why not use it on another sport? Global Rallycross is a championship to be seen, it’s going somewhere, so it’s quite important.”
Pastrana Racing’s Ian Davies would know as well as anybody the advantages that such a powerful team can offer. He worked within WRC, particularly with M-Sport, for two decades as an engineer, and led Block’s team before switching operations this year.
“I think when a team like Prodrive comes in,” he explains, “similar to the teams like M-Sport, they’ve got a big engineering resource, and they can react quite quickly. They will learn pretty fast—they will come here for the first race, and they will react. I was talking to an engineer that I’ve known from the WRC days, and this is very much a learning curve for them to come here.
“(But) the car will suit this type of track. It’s very small, it’s got good suspension travel, it will be soft. We know they’re running the 1600cc direct injection in a lighter weight class, so I think that they could be the surprise team this weekend.”
Photo credit: Alison Merion Padron