Liam Doran might not label it one, but he and Toomas "Topi" Heikkinen have developed an intriguing and entertaining rivalry at X Games and the Global Rallycross Championship this year.
At X Games Munich in June, Doran raced his Mini to gold and Heikkinen claimed bronze in the makeup for the RallyCross final that was canceled at X Games Barcelona. One day later in the second RallyCross race in Munich, Heikkinen took the gold medal and Doran captured silver.
Although Doran appeared angry over Heikkinen's aggressive driving and their two cars traded postrace bumps (see end of above video), Doran held his hand out to congratulate Heikkinen soon after the drivers had gotten out of their cars. When the Finnish driver left him hanging with a perceived snub, Doran responded with a slap to the back of Topi's helmeted head.
After some time to calm down and reflect, Doran admitted two weeks ago on the X Games podcast that it wasn't a very mature response.
"You're on the edge already and the last thing you want is somebody to wind you up about something," the 26-year-old native of Gillingham, England, told X Games host Ramona Bruland. "So he just got to me and wound me up. I shouldn't have let it happen, I should have been more mature about the situation. He won the race and whether I think it was fair that he won or not it doesn't really matter now. It's over and done with, so I just have to try and move on and try to make sure I beat everybody at the next race."
Doran was upset about Heikkinen banging his car on the second and third turns of the first lap of RallyCross No. 2 at Munich. Doran had gained the lead on the first turn, but Heikkinen bumped Doran on the second turn and took over the lead for the rest of the race.
"All of a sudden I got a big whack from the side and it bent my suspension," Doran said after the race. His car already gave up some horsepower to Heikkinen's Ford, so the additional damage prevented Doran from getting close enough to attempt a pass. When asked about a budding rivalry considering the two were the only drivers to reach the podium at both Munich races, Doran said it wasn't really a rivalry.
"I have a rivalry with people I have respect for. What he does to people just isn't fair, it's not racing. It's not fair, he just drives into people and gets them out of his way," Doran said. "And there's no racecraft involved. Now I like to think I've got good racecraft. If you have a tap every now and again, that happens. But he doesn't do tapping, he just drives people off the track. You can ask anybody else in this paddock and they'd agree with me. There's no rivalry, there's just no respect. Simple."
Heikkinen, who extended his lead to 34 points over second-place Brian Deegan in the GRC standings through five rounds, said he just found a hole to get the lead.
"There was a little bit happening with Liam but I didn't get any damage and it was great for us," Heikkinen, 22, said. "Our Ford Fiesta is so strong and that's why we're going to hit a little bit."
Since that second Munich race, Heikkinen won the next two GRC finals at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. Doran skipped New Hampshire and never got close enough to Heikkinen before getting knocked out and finishing ninth in the Bristol main event.
Rivalry or not, racing fans will need to tune in Sunday (5 p.m. ET on ESPN) to see if Doran and Heikkinen are matched up in the RallyCross heats and main event at X Games Los Angeles.