Adrien Fourmaux etched his name alongside an illustrious list of rallying legends by taking a sensational Modern Tyres Ulster Rally victory and a maximum score in the fourth round of the Motorsport UK British Rally Championship.
The Pirelli shod Ford Fiesta Rally2 ace stamped his authority on the leaderboard from the opening stage on Friday afternoon and was never headed, to give him and co-driver Alexandre Coria four wins on the bounce in the BRC and tighten their grip on the championship with three rounds remaining.
“It was really really nice to win here” said Fourmaux.
“We know the stages here in Ireland are really difficult and the competition here is very high. That rain, it just kept coming and along with the Irish drivers here, they are really impressive. They are fast and the pace here was really high and actually, it was a big fight so I am really glad we won this one. It’s a good result for the championship and a lot of points so it is really positive”.
But it wasn’t a straightforward fight for the Ulster Rally win for the Frenchman. Aiming to join a list of previous winners such as Colin McRae, Walter Rohrl, Stig Blomqvist and even his own boss M-Sport’s Malcolm Wilson, he would be faced with biblical rain and heavy winds courtesy of Storm Betty which graced much of Northern Ireland on Friday afternoon.
The already tricky lanes around the Newry rally base turned into torrents of running water, but the WRC2 ace is well-versed in what it takes to win a rally and as with many of his victories this season, made hay while the sun shone on the opening loop of tests.
The early lead enabled him to consolidate the position when the weather deteriorated in the fading light of Friday night and he would head to bed on Friday night with a seven-second cushion to nearest challenger Callum Devine.
Saturday’s weather was mixed, but slightly more predictable and once again it was a Fourmaux masterclass in managing pace and a rally lead, firing in stage-winning times when he was comfortable and playing it safe when it mattered.
He returned to the podium in Newry with a fourth BRC maximum score and a sizeable advantage in the standings. But destined to miss the following round and double points on offer at the final encounter of 2023, the championship is far from a done deal.
Recognising that fact was Garry Pearson, who elected to play his bonus point-inducing joker in Ulster and the Scot implemented his plan almost to perfection. Driving his Hankook-backed Volkswagen Polo GTi, Pearson and Daniel Barritt simply couldn’t find the confidence in the torrential rain and were in a lowly 15th overall after the opening Friday loop.
Electing not to fight Fourmaux for the win, Pearson’s confidence grew as the weather improved and his sensible approach netted him second BRC contender home, his best championship result to date.
The battle in the Junior BRC was less than clear-cut however as three different drivers had their slot on top of the category leaderboard during the weekend.
Making his return to the hotly contested category was the Welsh pairing of Ioan Lloyd and Sion Williams in their Michelin shod Peugeot 208 Rally4 and after spending time on the Irish asphalt this season, were well placed to take the fight to this year’s contenders. However young Lloyd was recovering from food poisoning, only making the start with a few minutes to spare, although there was no sign of any illness when the clocks stopped on the opening stage.
Lloyd had opened up a five-second advantage over fellow Peugeot ace Kyle White during the opening loop, but sadly a power issue in his 208 sent him back to service early. Enter Kyle McBride into the equation and a scorching time over the third test, 17 seconds faster than anyone else put him into the overnight halt with a healthy lead.
But it wasn’t long before that lead evaporated as White and co-driver Sean Topping went on a charge, clawing back time with each passing test and with a nominal time due to a stage stopping landing in their favour, it would seal the deal for the Northern Irishman, taking a valuable Junior BRC win on home soil and his third victory of the season.
“I`ll be honest, my first thought is with my wife who could well be giving birth around now so thank you to her for being so patient” said White.
“Thanks to the team after last night’s disaster, we found some luck today to bring home more points for the championship is important and it’s always nice to win on your home rally”.
McBride and Liam McIntyre secured second spot yet again in their Ford Fiesta Rally4, the fourth time in 2023 with Ypres Rally Junior winners Casey Jay Coleman and Lorcan Moore grabbing third after a rally to forget.
Across the other classes, it was also a miserable weekend for National Rally Title contenders Alan Carmichael and Claire Williams who would not restart the rally on Saturday. A severely misted screen and a broken shock absorber on the Hyundai i20 made Friday night’s run a miserable affair and when the starter motor also failed, it was time to call it a day.
It was even more gutting for Steve Waugh and Mark Broadbent who had returned an impressive drive in their Fiesta R2T. The pairing was making the most of their rallying debut outside of the UK mainland but failed to emerge from the final stage, cruelly denied another BRC4 category win.
The fifth round takes place in just two weeks as the undulating and rapid moorland roads of the JDS Machinery Rali Ceredigion in Wales host the final asphalt encounter of the year before the series shifts back onto gravel to close out the season.
Words and Photos: BRITISH RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP [Images must not be used in any way without prior written consent of the photographer]