The Adrien Fourmaux hype machine has been detuned on recent World Rally Championship rounds, but the M-Sport driver found himself very much in the thick of Saturday’s script in Spain.
In fact the second leg of the penultimate round acted as a microcosm of Fourmaux’s WRC season-to-date: sharp rises and great promise mixed with anonymity and little fumbles.
The highs were most definitely his stunning World Rally Car debut in Croatia that got everyone talking and nearly netted a stage win, and then the eventual stage win on Safari Rally Kenya which still stands as M-Sport’s sole scratch time of 2021.
The lows have come in Ypres where Fourmaux crashed out early and violently, and then on faster rallies like Finland where he’s just blended into the background rather than shaping the foreground like he’s proved he can do.
Friday on Rally Spain was the latest chapter in the book of disappointment. Copying the set-up Elfyn Evans used in 2019 when this rally last ran, Fourmaux struggled with an unstable rear end and was a forgettable sixth. But he teased what he was capable of on the day’s final stage with a fifth best time, just 2.8 seconds off the benchmark.
That fed into Saturday morning which was very much Fourmaux back at his swashbuckling best; the key moment a fine second-fastest time on the middle stage of the loop.
“We tried to have a fastest time but yeah unfortunately [it] was the second [fastest] by 1.7 seconds but I’m happy this morning, honestly it was a really good pace and even the last stage was really interesting,” Fourmaux debriefed with DirtFish.
Adrien's very analytical with the way he looks at thingsRich Millener
“We had a good pace at the beginning but then we start to lose the tire so I need to find a way in the set-up but also in my driving just to keep a bit more the tires for the long stages so no it was really good, good learning and the pace was there, so really good.”
Team principal Rich Millener was suitably impressed: “[He] took a bit of time to get learning yesterday because we were unable to test here with the logistics of everything leading up to the event but today he’s come out all guns blazing and set incredible times, and we’re really happy with it,” he said.
Fourmaux’s morning was yet more evidence of the sharp traits that have earmarked him as a future World Rally Champion. He was pushing to explore the limits of himself and his package but “always under control”, tactically choosing where to mount an attack and where to keep it steady.
“Adrien’s very analytical with the way he looks at things,” explained Millener. “He’ll go and study where he’s lost out maybe compared to the others, and you’ve got the incar from all the other guys on WRC+ so you can have a bit of time to look at things.
“And he’s taken all that in, come back this morning and you hear him in his comments he’s starting to learn where he needs to be to drive at that pace.
“This afternoon is probably a bit more tricky with the stages being a bit messier and a bit dustier but it’s really impressive to see those times coming in from him.
“There’s still a long way to go in the development of his career and there’ll be ups and downs along the way,” Millener added, “but you know what he’s done this morning only goes to show what he’s capable of.”
Fourmaux knew what he wanted to achieve too: “This afternoon I would like to do fastest time but the thing is this afternoon is more dirty so now the commitment and risk you need to take in the cuts and the dirty places is different, but let’s see,” he said.
“Maybe we have a comfortable drive.”
Unfortunately both Fourmaux and Millener cursed it as the same stage that put his name up in lights – Querol – Les Pobles – threw Fourmaux into the headlines for undesirable reasons.
The same stage that made him proved to be the same that broke him – and his car. He had gone from hero to zero in a matter of hours.
“It was a good pace in the stage and then I had a small mistake where I was too close to the barrier and then just the wheel touched the barrier, so opened the wheel, had a puncture and broke the driveshaft and the transmission,” Fourmaux explained at the end-of-day media zone.
“Then we were [in the] middle of the road in a bad position so it was difficult to go back on the road and then we decided to change the tire, I had just enough space for that. And then when we tried to restart the car wouldn’t go. First gear, second gear, the car was stopped.
“I just had my engineer on [the] phone and he said ‘try to lock the diffs’ and then the car goes. So it was interesting.”
The misjudgement cost Fourmaux a shave under nine minutes and dumped him down to 21st overall. But there was no time to lick his wounds as he had a car to fix.
This is where Fourmaux very much became his own hero once again. His determination and composure to get his Fiesta WRC back into some sort of working order was exemplary.
Of course, all rally drivers need to be good mechanics but four years ago Fourmaux was at university studying medicine. He doesn’t have years worth of experience of mishaps from national rallies to fall back on in these situations.
“We finished the stage and on the side of the road on the road section we got quite happy because we fixed the car just in time,” he continued. “We removed the driveshaft because we can damage something else on the car, we changed the steering arm and also tried to manage our tires.
“We just changed our tires just before the time control because the front was doing that [pointing inwards] so the tire wear was terrible. It was tricky at the end.
“You always have to never give up,” he added. “The only goal is just to try to find a way to fix the car and we did, so this is why I’m happy.
“OK the engineers have a lot of knowledge so they are there to give me advice but they are not there, so they don’t see the issue. I just need to find a good way to explain this is broken, this is bent, what can I do and what do you think and we did that perfectly I think.”
Fourmaux’s tone is not indicative of a driver that’s chucked away a top-six result via a mistake that he’d be justified in feeling was severely punished. He spoke like a learner, someone focused on the bigger picture. And that can only take him far in rallying.
“There are always positive things to take,” he said. “Maybe one day I will be fighting for a championship and if I lose 10 or 15 seconds on the stage I will have to fix it to lose less for the next stage.
“It’s always good to practice and this is why I said it’s good learning for me.”
Expect Sunday’s mission to be WRC stage win number one on asphalt.