M-Sport has been here before. Petter Solberg, Markko Märtin, Francois Duval, Mikko Hirvonen, Jari-Matti Latvala, Ott Tänak, Elfyn Evans… need we go on?
If there’s one thing Malcolm Wilson’s team does better than anybody else’s, it’s developing young drivers, nurturing their talent and transforming them into global superstars.
“M-Sport is the best, best team if you want to learn rally in a family team I would say, because they know everything about rallying,” says the team’s latest rising star.
“They had drivers like Carlos Sainz, [Sébastien] Ogier, [Colin] McRae and young drivers also Evans, Tanak, [Thierry] Neuville; all the good drivers drive for M-Sport. I think even Kalle [Rovanperä] drove for M-Sport before so they have the experience of the young drivers and just to help them to be at the top level.”
Those words belong to 25-year-old Adrien Fourmaux, usually entrusted to pilot M-Sport’s Fiesta Rally2 entry in the WRC2 support series.
“They helped me a lot last year to be honest, just to grow up I would say,” adds Fourmaux. “Just to be able to improve my pace, my confidence, everything.
“Honestly I can talk about everything with them and it helps me a lot because I don’t have questions. If I want to ask something, I can. If they have something to advise me, they tell me just to be more performant.
“It’s just like a family, everyone wants the best. It’s the same for me, I want the best for me but I also want the best for them. The team spirit, the team work, they help me a lot.”
Fourmaux is speaking to DirtFish ahead of his World Rally Championship debut in a World Rally Car on next weekend’s Rally Croatia.
It’s clear from those early snippets of our conversation that he feels he’s in the ultimate environment to be taking this challenge on. But perhaps Fourmaux is doing himself a disservice there, because as much as M-Sport is helping him he is certainly helping M-Sport too.
When both Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen’s engines overheated on the very first stage of the 2020 season in Monte Carlo, that really should’ve been taken as an omen for what was to come. In a pre-coronavirus world, one of M-Sport’s favorite sons – Elfyn Evans – had fled the nest and was challenging for victory on his first ever appearance in Toyota colors.
If it was last year I think it would be a mess but now this year I feel confidentAdrien Fourmaux on his World Rally Car debut
And as for its then current crop? Lappi began his season with a fourth and a fifth, which were solid but unspectacular results, before his Fiesta WRC burned to the ground in México – losing the team a chassis at the worst possible time as COVID-19 was about to devastate the world’s economy.
M-Sport’s wallet can’t compete with the full factory efforts of Toyota and Hyundai at the best of times and without selling rally cars to the national markets in rallying’s hiatus, it struggled to test its World Rally Car as the WRC season eased back into life, meaning it was left behind. This year it only has one full-time driver in Gus Greensmith who has room to develop but isn’t threatening to be a World Rally Champion of tomorrow.
To cut a long story short, 2022 development aside it’s not the best time to be an M-Sport fan or member of staff. But Fourmaux is the tonic to this rather potent spirit.
Just four years ago, he had only ever started one rally in his career prior to winning the FFSA’s Rallye Jeunes selection process in 2016.
Just under two years into his career he was behind the wheel of a Fiesta R5 on one of France’s biggest rallies: Rallye du Var. On his very next event, he was in the WRC and claimed second in class and 10th overall on the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally.
Forumaux is special. It’s as simple as that. But that’s not to say there haven’t been hiccups. His accident on Rally di Roma last year was perhaps the biggest of them all.
By then an official M-Sport driver, the Frenchman got a puncture on the first stage and then spectacularly rolled out on the next as he turned into a corner fractionally too early, nudging the edge of a bridge and sending his Fiesta into the adjacent bank and a consequent violent roll.
The last year has been the one that’s put Fourmaux on the map though. Of course, driving for M-Sport is always going to garner more attention, but his driving has warranted it. He began the 2020 season with a bit of a ‘who is this guy?’ tag but ended it as a perennial threat in WRC2 and a real headache for his rivals.
“I have taken so much experience in one year, it’s just crazy to be honest,” says Fourmaux, when asked about his progression throughout 2020.
“I have done I think 14 rallies last year; Tarmac rallies, gravel rallies, snow rallies so I have a lot of experience compared to last year, it’s completely different. And even in my mind it’s different because now I have more confidence.
“When I arrive at a rally I have less stress, I am more focused on my driving and what I have to do so I feel more comfortable to attack, to push on the Croatia Rally.
“If it was last year I think it would be a mess but now this year I feel confident.”
Part of that confidence is rooted in an appearance on last year’s Rallylegend event in San Marino. A lot is being made of Croatia being Fourmaux’s WRC debut in a Fiesta WRC, but as well as testing the machine he already has tangible competition experience in the car too.
“I think I’m just more cool I would say before Croatia,” he says, “because I have already driven the car on Tarmac and on the rally so I don’t have the pressure that it’s [my] first rally with the car, no it’s not. I’ve already done a rally, so I’m quite OK now actually.
“Honestly I was really surprised to be really confident inside the car,” Fourmaux adds. “I was driving comfortably and I was just enjoying all the kilometers I did with the car and it was a really good experience for me, honestly it was just brilliant.
“Especially [because] we won the rally. OK it was not a WRC event but it’s still something so it was a nice feeling and yeah it was a good idea from M-Sport to drive this rally with the WRC because I had no pressure, nothing. So honestly it just helps me a lot.”
The fact Croatia is a brand-new event in the WRC helps Fourmaux too. He feels “the difference between the level of the knowledge of the rally” between himself and his competitors has been equalized.
He explains: “If it was Germany or Finland the top drivers know the stages, have a lot of knowledge of the stages of the rally, the type of the rally, the grip.
“For example [with] the tire choice. OK now it’s a new manufacturer but it’s still just Tarmac tires so I think now the level is more consistent for all the drivers so it’s a good opportunity for me.”
Forumaux will certainly stand out on the stages, as well as potentially on the timesheets, as his Fiesta WRC will be wrapped in a special Red Bull livery due to the energy drinks giant’s support of Fourmaux and co-driver Renaud Jamoul.
“It’s just a dream you know for a driver to have the Red Bull support, it’s just something unbelievable,” Fourmaux beams. “To feel the trust, the faith that Red Bull have in myself and Renaud is just really good, a really good opportunity for me.
“OK sometimes you can feel maybe more pressure because like I said all the drivers want to have Red Bull, but honestly I’m just trying to do exactly the same and be as performant as possible. And yeah, it’s just for me a great honor to have them.”
His Fiesta WRC will have #16 plastered on the side, which has been chosen for two reasons. Firstly, Fourmaux won the Rallye Jeunes selection process back in 2016 and coincidentally, he has started 16 world rallies before getting his chance in the World Rally Car.
“It’s a good number for me!” he says.
I want to fight, I have some goals but I need to stay humble for thatAdrien Fourmaux on his aims for Croatia
But will Croatia bring a good result? Fourmaux insists his key objective next week is just to enjoy as many kilometers he can behind the wheel of the WRC car “but I’m still a competitor and I want to prove many things”.
“I also know that it will be my first rally so it’s a big challenge,” he cautions. “But if I feel confident to push, I will.
“I will also ask the team what they expect but actually it’s just I would say to learn a lot but we never know. I think it will depend after the first loop, first day and see where we are and where we can plan to fight.
“But as I said, first of all I want to just enjoy, it’s a dream for me to take part in the rally. I’m so, so happy to start the rally with the WRC car with the Red Bull livery. To be honest, OK I want to fight, I have some goals but I need to stay humble for that.
“Honestly it’s a big, big chance I have,” Fourmaux continues.
“I don’t realize now to be honest, I think I will realize more at the start of the first stage. It’s just crazy.
“Four years, it’s long to be honest,” he says, briefly confusing DirtFish given his rise from his first rally to a World Rally Car has been as rapid as Oliver Solberg’s, and Fourmaux has done that without the added clout of having a triple world champion as a father.
“Four years when you are here you feel like it’s really long to wait,” Fourmaux clarifies, “but when you see and when you are watching all the different drivers it’s not so long, especially with my knowledge of rallying before 2016!” he giggles.
“You can say more than me about that but I’m just trying to do my best all the time and see where I can be in the future but it’s already brilliant for me to take part in the rally after four years.”
It’s even more crazy when you consider what Fourmaux has given up to get here. In fact, it’s probably just as well his shot on the biggest stage of them all has come now given where he could’ve been instead.
“I would just have to do one year more, and I would be a doctor,” he says. “I know that because I have many friends from my medicine studies and I’m still talking to them, and next year they will be a proper doctor with a license and everything.
“When you see that you can say did you the best choice or not? I would say yes, because I’m really happy to be here so I have no regrets to be honest.
“I’m just happy to see them now close to being a doctor and we never know, maybe after my rally career I will be a doctor! We never know, we’ll see. The future will tell me.”
But before that the future will also tell us if Adrien Fourmaux will be a star of the World Rally Championship. That chapter starts next week, and I’m prepared to wager every cent I have ever earned that he’s going to achieve that and then some – maybe even as early as Rally Croatia.