The story behind Fourmaux’s maiden WRC podium

It's been a topsy-turvy couple of seasons for the Frenchman, but Sweden delivered a stellar first WRC podium. Here's how

Fourmaux 200224

Less than a month ago, questions remained about M-Sport Ford and its Rally1 returnee Adrien Fourmaux.

Was a year of rebuilding confidence in Rally2 machinery enough to change his fortunes in Rally1? Could the inexperienced Frenchman really lead one of the sport’s biggest teams? And would the Cumbrian squad fade into obscurity after losing its star driver, 2019 world champion Ott Tänak?

After just two rounds of the 2024 World Rally Championship, we have our answers: yes, yes and certainly not.

Fourmaux’s drive to third place and a maiden podium in Sweden was hugely impressive, but it was no coincidence. It was the perfect demonstration of just how far the 28-year-old has come, and how he has learned to manage a rally from start to finish, including delivering searing speed when he really needs to.

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Fifth place in Monte Carlo provided a solid start to Fourmaux's return to world rallying's top flight last month

The Puma Rally1 driver had the pace to fight for a top-five spot right from the word go on Friday. Then, as the heavy snow fell and others lost control, Fourmaux sensibly went into survival mode and stayed on the road. But he did that quickly enough to stay very much in touch with the sharp end of the leaderboard and ended the day fourth. Learning how to manage risk in treacherous conditions was all part of the Malcolm Wilson training plan.

“[Last year] We gave him a lot of seat time on a lot of different events,” said the M-Sport managing director before the rally began. “He encountered a lot of different conditions and, in this sport, there’s no substitute for seat time. That’s what we tried to do with him last year and then give him the chance again this year.”

“He’s a very clever guy, there’s no question. We’ve gone through some difficult periods with him. But I think what we did with him last year has given him a lot of confidence.”

As Saturday began, Fourmaux seized his moment with both hands, quickly passing WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg and then Takamoto Katsuta’s snow-beached Toyota to jump up to second. He then brilliantly held off 2020 Sweden winner Elfyn Evans all afternoon by driving cleanly and keeping his tires alive while the Welshman struggled to find confidence and traction in the increasingly rough Swedish stages.

Fourmaux Fiesta 200224

Stepping back to Rally2 last season has - so far - paid handsome dividends for Fourmaux and M-Sport

And it wasn’t just Evans who Fourmaux out-drove on Saturday; he beat the entire field on SS11 to give the Puma its first stage win of the season and deliver Wilson the perfect birthday present.

With a thoroughly deserved podium within his grasp, Fourmaux knew what the boss wanted from him on Sunday. Having already banked 15 points for finishing second at the end of Saturday, the M-Sport team leader brought the car home safely and secure in third place –  the first podium finish of his still-young career. As he climbed out of his car after the powerstage, Fourmaux was still pinching himself.

“When we were third on the road on Friday with a lot of snow, I didn’t expect to be in the third position today – and second yesterday, keeping Elfyn behind us,” he told DirtFish. “It’s only my fourth rally on snow. It’s my second rally coming back to Rally1, and so I can be really proud of what we have achieved, especially here in Sweden for a French driver.

“[It’s] Really, really positive. I’m glad that after one year of hard work with the Rally2, we are now back and now step on the first step of the podium.

“I didn’t expect to get a podium before the second half of the season. So to be now on the podium after the second rally, it’s very good.”

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Fourmaux's 2022 season was definitely something of a nail-biter for all involved

It isn’t just Fourmaux who has proved the doubters wrong in Sweden; M-Sport has shown yet again what it can do for a young driver with heaps of raw talent, but with a need to learn patience and maturity. Many thought the British team would be a step behind the might of the manufacturer-backed Hyundai and Toyota teams this season.

Granted, we’re still just two rounds in, but the team has shown it can compete with its young drivers, and there seems to be an abundance of positivity around the WRC’s perennial underdogs this season – something that contrasts to the tension that has surrounded M-Sport in recent years. Wilson feels it too.

“I didn’t expect to be in this position on this rally,” he told DirtFish. “Adrien did a great, solid Monte Carlo [as well], but also, Grégoire [Munster] has done some really good times [in Sweden]. So they’re both adapting very well.

“There’s a great atmosphere in the team. They’re working very well with all the engineers. It’s great for the youngsters, I love to see these guys evolve and develop and mature as people as well.”

Fourmaux’s top three finish on Rally Sweden elevated him to third in the drivers’ championship, behind regular WRC winners Evans and Thierry Neuville, and ahead of the man who dumped M-Sport at the end of 2023, Ott Tänak.

While it’s might be a stretch to expect the fast Frenchman to maintain that position over the course of this season, last weekend’s performance means nobody in the service park would be surprised to see him challenge at the very front of the WRC for years to come.