Märtin, Solberg, Duval, Finns galore, when Malcolm Wilson tells you about the next big thing in rallying, you listen. I listened.
It was December 2018 in Dovenby Hall. We were saying goodbye to Sébastien Ogier, who was departing Cockermouth, bound for Citroën. What next for M-Sport? What next for Wilson? Just at that point, MW pointed to a studious, young-looking fella who’d just declined a glass of champagne.
“Do you know Adrien?” I didn’t.
“He’s the next big thing,” Wilson told me. “It’s early, but I think he might have it. He’s got some commitment about him.”
Fourmaux had just come off the back of a pretty decent four-wheel drive debut at Rallye du Var, where he was running fourth among a typically strong French-dominated R5 pack. He went off the road later in the event, but the pace was good.
Tenth overall on his first ever Monte Carlo Rally a couple of months later underlined that potential.
Wilson was in and a Fourmaux deal done.
Once again, the forward-looking French Federation has put some funding together – as has Red Bull since the top of this season – but the financial burden falls very much on M-Sport. But Wilson and M-Sport team principal Rich Millener both see this as a solid investment.
The first significant return was shown last weekend.
Yes, Fourmaux won Rallylegend on his debut in a Ford Fiesta WRC last year, but Croatia was where it was at for the 25-year-old. Admittedly, the weather did him a favor, remaining dry and consistent, but you can’t take anything away from what he achieved. Fifth overall was a magnificent début.
“Pretty impressive, eh…” said Wilson at the finish. “You see now? I told you to watch him. Seriously though, I was very, very pleased with that. Considering he’s only been in the sport for four years, that was some drive.”
The two second fastest times were nice for Wilson, but it was Fourmaux’s response when he landed the Fiesta in a ditch on Sunday morning that came as the icing on the cake.
“He was so calm,” said Wilson. “It’s so easy as a driver when that happens that you just bang the car into reverse and probably strip some teeth [off the cogs in the gearbox]. But he didn’t. He didn’t panic, he accepted he’d made a mistake and he dealt with it. There was no frustration, nothing like that, he just got back on the road and carried on.”
It’s that response which has helped bag him the seat for Portugal.
“We hadn’t really decided on the events,” said Wilson, “Rich and I were talking about it, but that result swung it for him to take the follow-on ride. Teemu [Suninen] will be back in the car for Sardinia – we’ve seen some really good speed from him on that event in the last couple of years and we want him to drive the [World Rally] car there. But, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see Adrien in Portugal.”
Fourmaux couldn’t really talk to DirtFish much on Tuesday. He was up a hill in Spain, watching Ford’s 2022 car testing.
“That’s typical of him,” said Wilson, “he just wanted to be there to see what was going on and be around the team.”
Fourmaux is expected to get his first shot in the 2022 car later this week.
“Like I told you [in 2018], it’s his commitment that really impresses me. The commitment to come and succeed in this sport – that he gave up on his medical studies four years into them when he had absolutely no guarantees of anything, except his own certainty that this is the right way for him. He’s some kid.”
Indeed, he is. But what does he think? First the debut top-five in WRC and then the Portugal seat.
“The only disappointing part of Croatia Rally was when it ended,” smiled Fourmaux.
“At the time I didn’t know when I would next get a chance to drive this amazing car, and then Rich told me that I would be back behind the wheel in Portugal. I was already so happy with how the weekend had gone, and then to be told that I would have another opportunity to drive at the very next event was amazing!
“I’m really looking forward to experiencing this car on gravel and will work hard to learn as much as I can and really make the most of the experience. I’m so grateful to M-Sport and Red Bull for this opportunity and want to thank everyone who has supported me over the past four years.
“Right now, I have no words!”
Don’t worry. Those words will come. Wilson’s sure of it. Has been for the last four years.