World Rally Championship star Adrien Fourmaux has vowed to “come back stronger” despite his ice-racing debut this weekend being cut short by illness in Val Thorens’ Andros Trophy curtain-raiser.
The M-Sport WRC contender said his bow in the format was “really interesting” and is aiming to win an Andros Trophy race this season, though he retired early from Val Thorens’ concluding final with breathing difficulties and having felt sick since Friday.
Dorian Boccolacci and Aurélien Panis won the first two super finals of the season at the event.
There were 13 drivers in the top Elite Pro class at the French ski resort, with Fourmaux one of two rookies and up against the likes of his M-Sport Ford World Rally Championship team-mate Sébastien Loeb, touring car legend Yvan Muller plus his nephew Yann Ehrlacher.
Fourmaux got the first taste of his Ducastel Race Performance-run car in a test on Thursday evening, long after the sun had set in the Alps, then again on Friday morning.
The weekend schedule began with free practice runs, before two rounds of qualifying each day – and a Super Pole session for the fastest drivers – leading into the all-important final and super final races. It did not take long for Fourmaux to realize he was in a very different world to the WRC.
“It’s really, really fun,” he told DirtFish, before reiterating: “It’s really, really fun.
“You arrive completely sideways, sometimes nearly reversing, to search for the apex of the corner. It’s really, really nice, but it’s really, really complex because the track is changing a lot between the days, and during the day. So even the set-up, you have to change the tire pressure, you have to change so much, so you need the experience etc, so it’s a really specialist event.”
Fourmaux was a respectable eighth fastest in practice, but did not complete his qualifying run in Q1. He bounced back in Q2 though, going seventh fastest. Nathanaël Berthon topped Q1, Boccolacci led Q2 and Jean-Baptiste Dubourg was fastest in Super Pole.
The placings from the intermediate classification, set by distributing positions for positions in each session, meant Fourmaux and Loeb went into the final together while the qualifying pacesetters went into the super final.
Multiple hairpins on the Val Thorens course provided multiple overtaking opportunities for Fourmaux starting from fifth on the grid, but there was “nothing” he could draw from his rallying experience to prepare him for his debut ice race.
“You can use the steering of the rear wheels [to turn], so it’s completely different to rally,” he said. “You don’t have the handbrake, and even in Rally Sweden it’s different because we have much longer studs than here. The studs are 2mm here, and Sweden it’s more like 7mm.”
The race itself took place after dark, making it “really, really fun”, and Fourmaux finished fifth while Anthony Pelfrene won after a battle with Ehrlacher. On one lap the two scraped against each other all the way down a straight after Ehrlacher tried forcing his way down the inside at one hairpin, and bodywork and a headlight was broken when they continued to rub panels on the next lap.
Pelfrene was full of adrenaline after the bout, calling the race “extraordinary” repeatedly.
The drivers in the super final were actually more mistake-prone, but the track had degenerated more by the time they took to it, with much of the entertainment being provided by Muller and Panis’s diving passes on each other until the top two Boccolacci and Berthon decided to have a battle too and a collision left Boccolacci with a comfortable margin up front to win.
Boccolacci’s form did not continue into the next day as he spun during qualifying and Panis set the Q1 pace. Muller topped Q2, then Panis comfortably went fastest again in Super Pole. Fourmaux was 10th in qualifying, and then retired from the final, revealing to DirtFish that all was not right in the car.
I want to win a race before the end of the season, and even maybe more if we canAdrien Fourmaux
“It was quite relaxing [as an event], but unfortunately I have been sick since Friday evening so it has been really, really difficult for me.
“That’s why I retired in the last race, because I didn’t feel well at all. It’s not COVID-19, I did the test, but I’m quite sick so I couldn’t really drive like I wanted. I had to stop in the last race because I didn’t feel well, I had some difficulties to breathe, so it wasn’t really an easy weekend. But in two weeks I will come back stronger.”
Panis heads to round two in Andorra as points leader, after he won Sunday’s super final.
Ehrlacher dominated from pole in the final, which began with Fourmaux running wide and dropping to last before he called it a day at the end of lap two of six.
A great start meant Panis had a similar route to victory in the super final from pole, with Muller finishing second and Dobourg third after he battled with Berthon, had a run-in with Jimmy Clairet (who would later end up stuck in a snowbank) and then had one of his indicators turn on in the final laps. Alessandro Ghiretti barged past Berthon to finish fourth.
Although Fourmaux’s debut was shortened by illness, another unlucky moment in a tough year that has already included breathing problems while driving, he said he was “really pleased” that DRP had called him up to race and confirmed he will do all of the remaining events bar the penultimate round which is on the same weekend as the 2023 Monte Carlo Rally.
“It’s really, really interesting for me. I feel really, really comfortable on the wideness of the road, it’s more like the driving style that I need to improve, and also understand the car and which set-up etc, so it’s really interesting. The track as well was fine. For sure the grip is inconsistent, you have to find the traction, don’t damage your studs if you have a little bit of Tarmac.
“I want to win a race before the end of the season, and even maybe more if we can. But for sure it’s not easy when you arrive in a new category, it’s a very different driving style so you have a lot of specialists [as your opposition].”