The last time DirtFish called Adrien Fourmaux at the beginning of August, things looked a little bit desperate. He’d recently crashed his Ford Fiesta Rally2 on the European Rally Championship round in Rome, and faced the ire of his team principal Rich Millener.
But that was 2020. One year on, the picture couldn’t be more different. Fourmaux has gone from being a desperate driver to one desperately in demand.
The wheels were quickly in motion last year with a quick upturn in form, but his exploits in 2021 – behind the wheel of the Fiesta World Rally Car in particular – have shot Fourmaux into stardom.
“You can see that the wind can change quite quickly,” says Fourmaux when asked about his transformational 12 months.
“It’s really good because we can see that all the work we have done after Roma is actually going in a good way, so it’s really good.
“Unfortunately, but fortunately now, I’ve learned a lot from Roma and I’m more prepared for the rally and more focused, just many things. I have more people around me just to help me in many things so it’s completely different.”
The wider rallying world’s awareness and perception of Fourmaux is radically different now that he’s strung a real run of form together. His stunning top flight WRC debut in Croatia no doubt helped: he finished fifth and was just seconds away from a maiden WRC stage win. The latter was an achievement he would tick off two rounds later on Safari Rally Kenya.
But in truth, his entire season to date has been a bit of a masterclass with a sixth place in Portugal – his first gravel event in a WRC car – and another fifth in Kenya despite having done neither rally before. And don’t forget, Fourmaux only began his driving career at any level four years ago.
Next weekend’s Ypres Rally will be his fourth in the Fiesta WRC as he switches between it and the Fiesta Rally2 for WRC2 throughout 2021.
Fourmaux is unsurprisingly pleased with the progress he has shown already, particularly in the Fiesta WRC. But he’s hungry for more.
“For sure if you watch a bit the past it’s only four years [I’ve been driving] and to be able to do some good results at this level only after four years, it’s always good to see but the way to go is still pretty long,” he says.
“I know there are still a lot of improvements to do but it’s really exciting that we have plenty of things to improve on my driving, on preparation, on everything so for sure I’m still learning and hopefully when I’m learning I’m also improving my pace.”
But where can he specifically improve?
“It’s just some driving to help me to be more clean and tidy all the time, be more confident for the first pass,” Fourmaux replies.
“Just improve some small things because of my inexperience of rally on my pacenotes. For example in Estonia, the second pass was completely different to the first. All these things, it’s just experience.
“Most of the time it’s more experience than really learning something but even for this type of rally like Estonia or Finland, it was only my second fast rally on gravel in Estonia, so I’m still learning for sure.
“OK the result and being able to fight with the top WRC2 drivers, it wasn’t so bad. We wanted more than the fourth position but it was still good learning. There is still a lot of things to learn and I’m sure even the top drivers in the WRC car are always learning.”
Learning new things doesn’t faze Fourmaux. After all, it’s all he’s used to behind the wheel of a rally car.
No event he’s faced this year has represented a constant; something – whether that be the car, conditions or stage characteristics – has always been a new experience for the 26-year-old.
Ypres will be no different. Despite its close proximity to his native France, Fourmaux – like many of his peers – is an Ypres Rally rookie although Belgian co-driver Renaud Jamoul has done the rally before, which Fourmaux confesses “can help”.
It will be his second asphalt start at this level in the WRC car which does offer some familiarity, and Fourmaux is looking to lean on that as he admits “the goal has changed” for the second half of the season.
In Croatia Fourmaux targeted particular stages, specifically SS9/13 Mali Lipovec – Grdanjci which began Saturday’s loop, to perform well on as his experience grew. But now with some learning banked, he wants to be punching in competitive stage times far more regularly.
“We are improving our pace all the season actually so we hope that we’ll be able to fight a bit more on this rally compared to Croatia,” he explains. “The goal will be a bit different.
“We did good times in Croatia but it will be interesting to try and be even more competitive on each stage and not be focused on only one. So yes, of course we want to do a good rally.
"It’s 40km from my house, it’s the country of Renaud so we’ll have plenty of partners, family, friends will be present on the event so hopefully it’ll be a good party for us at the end of the rally!Adrien Fourmaux
“[It] will be a big challenge for sure, especially with our road position for the Friday because it’s a rally where you have a lot of cutting and we can easily be on a really muddy road compared to the first guy for example. If it’s dry it could be OK but yeah if it’s a bit wet and damp it can be quite difficult for us.
“So yeah it’s a completely different rally, we don’t know if they will put some anti-cuts in the corners. Actually we’ll have to see after the recce how it goes but for sure it can be a big challenge.”
Quizzed on what his new goal really is, Fourmaux says: “The goal has changed because we have a bit more experience with the car now so we want to fight with the guys for a longer time I would say, and be able to fight.
“It’s a rally a bit at home, it’s 40 kilometers from my house, it’s the [home] country of Renaud so we’ll have plenty of partners, family, friends will be present on the event so hopefully it’ll be a good party for us at the end of the rally! Of course we have some good expectations for this rally.”
But with those ambitions comes added pressure and expectation from fans and the service park because of his increased profile. However Fourmaux is adamant this fuels him rather than fazes him.
“I just prefer to enjoy this moment,” he says. “I prefer to be in this situation than another one.
“Honestly it doesn’t put me under pressure but just gives me more motivation I would say.”
Fourmaux could use help from his fans and the rallying community though as he has teamed up with Red Cross Belgium in the wake of the severe floods that have battered Belgium and some of its neighboring nations.
Recognizing that rallying plays second-fiddle in a situation like this, Fourmaux wanted to give something back to those that have battled through it and helped others, starting with his Ypres test earlier in the week.
“I wanted to give one co-drive to one of the guys that has lost something and he was also helping a lot of other families. We can see now there’s still a good community when we want to improve something in life.
“I just wanted to say thanks to these guys and also support the Red Cross just because they are helping all these people in the bad situation. Hopefully all the people in the rally can give just one euro or one libra or one dollar as each person can make a big difference at the end.
“Hopefully the people will do that. And I will try also to have the support of the other drivers, we need to speak to them during the rally but we’ll see.”
Fourmaux does have his own future to think about though as he heads to Ypres as M-Sport is undecided on its 2022 driver line-up. There is growing suspicion that Fourmaux will form part of it, but he says “it’s too early to speak about that”.
In fact, he doesn’t even know what he’ll be driving beyond next weekend.
“I would like to tell you that I will be in this rally or in this rally but actually I just know my program until the last day of Ypres.
“Greece, Finland, all the rest I don’t know which car I will drive.”
Musing on 2022 specifically, he adds: “Confident? I don’t know. Hopefully the results we have done this season will help for sure, but nothing is confirmed actually so I still have some expectations.”
Ypres is yet another opportunity for Fourmaux to show what he can do – if indeed he still needs to.
Those that knew, knew that Fourmaux had these sensational performances within him, but this season so far has acted as clear evidence that this latest French star could be the one to carry the torch in Sébastien Ogier’s absence.
His consistency, composure and assurance behind the wheel, proven by his lack of driving errors (a needless diversion on the Safari that earned him a 10-second penalty aside) is mindblowing for a driver with such little experience of not just the WRC’s top level, but rallying as a whole.
Sébastien Chardonnet, Stéphane Lefebvre and Eric Camilli all tried – but ultimately failed – to become the next big thing in France. Belgian rule for Fourmaux could prove another major step to proving the latest French prince will undoubtedly become a king.