Gus Greensmith takes a considered pause, “Can I split it into two, like different terms?” he laughs.
DirtFish has just asked him how he would rate his 2021 World Rally Championship season out of 10 if he was to issue himself a school report card.
“I think I’d give term one a solid two out of 10,” he says, “and then the middle term I’d give myself a seven or eight and then the last term I’d probably give myself a seven.”
Why has the last term not been quite as good as the middle?
“I just think we were hoping for some slightly stronger pace on the last couple of rallies but just didn’t really have it,” Greensmith responds, “but then we’ve also found areas where we know where that is so they’re just as productive as the other ones.
“Not every rally will be great, we spotted a couple of areas where I can see where the time is where we can improve and that was basically the difference.
“Middle set of the year I felt like I was on a good run of good performances.”
Welcome to a new, improved and revitalized Greensmith. Speaking exclusively to DirtFish on the run in to Christmas, he’s hard at work continuing his training regime but his driving for the year is done.
I desperately wanted to be in a position to be in one of these cars next year but to be there I had to deserve itGus Greensmith
That’s all reserved for 2022, the pre-event test and the Monte Carlo Rally. That’s when we’ll truly get a read of the impressive progression the now 25-year-old (Greensmith celebrated his birthday two days ago on Boxing Day) has made over 2021.
Cast your mind back to that desperate, dejected and despondent performance on the 2021 Monte and it was hard to believe that Greensmith would find himself heading back there firstly with an M-Sport contract at all, but secondly with such optimism.
“In the pre-event test I genuinely had one of the best feelings in the car that I’ve ever had and there were a lot of people coming to me saying from all the videos of the pre-event test that the car looked alive and everything looked brilliant, and I felt really good.
“And then just straight immediately into the event, I think maybe no shakedown just didn’t help, I just for some reason that weekend – no matter what I tried, what I did – could never get myself in a rhythm,” Greensmith admits.
“The best [stage] result of the weekend was fifth fastest and that was it, so we could just never get into the rhythm. It was just a very confusing one, couldn’t really work it out so we had a sit down, we had a think. And then we went to Arctic.
“Although the result wasn’t great, the performance relative to Teemu [Suninen] who’s fought for wins in those conditions before was actually very strong. We felt that was a good step forward but felt we were still behind where we needed to be to be in a position to be driving one of the hybrids at the end of the year.”
It’s interesting to hear that as early as the winter rounds of this year’s championship, Greensmith was already working on justifying his position in M-Sport’s ranks. There had been plenty of criticism flung his way for his de facto status as the team’s ‘lead driver’ in 2021 due to his team-mates swapping between the WRC and Rally2 Fiesta, but he knew the score.
This season was always a stop-gap year for M-Sport, so if Greensmith wanted a future he needed to prove he was worthy of the drive on pure sporting terms and not just because he happens to bring useful backing to the team.
“I desperately wanted to be in a position to be in one of these cars next year because it felt like we knew that M-Sport and Ford can produce a brilliant car straight from the off so it felt like the right place to be and the place I wanted to be,” Greensmith explains.
“But to be there I had to deserve it, so that’s why we made the changes and made such big improvements throughout the year.”
However had he not made “the changes”, bringing Chris Patterson in to replace Elliott Edmondson after Arctic Rally Finland, would Greensmith have the contract in his back pocket? It would be too speculative to answer that, but it can’t be denied that the improvements this shift brought were huge. And instant.
“I think we understood that it was never anything Elliott did wrong,” Greensmith says.
“I’ve always maintained that Elliott is a fantastic co-driver and will be in the WRC for a very long time, but he’s only a couple of years older than me and I needed someone with experience and time to know how to get the best out of a driver because all the things I was trying didn’t necessarily give me all the results I wanted.
“It was kind of ‘we need a fresh approach’ because it wasn’t going to improve the way we wanted it to if we carried on. So it was pretty much straight after Arctic that we decided that we have to make a change.
“It was very much Malcolm [Wilson]’s suggestion,” Greensmith adds on the decision to choose Patterson specifically.
“He’d worked with Matthew [Wilson] before and he’s obviously worked with Petter [Solberg], Kris Meeke and stuff so he’s a huge amount of experience of getting the best out of drivers so it was suggested.
“And at that point then I didn’t really know what I needed to be doing in terms of improving myself. You can obviously point out the obvious ones, but sometimes you need a fresh approach and someone with experience looking back at me and being able to tell me what they are.
Chris started basically showing me how to develop the notes and also how much work I really should be doingGus Greensmith
“And that’s what Chris brought exactly into the car and then everything started to go up from there.”
Didn’t they just. It wasn’t just Greensmith’s pace that suddenly improved but his demeanour was transformed too. Gone was this agitated, perplexed character and in his place was this calm and motivated soul that looked to have finally found his direction.
“The way Chris made me look at it was this was a fresh start, we’re starting from zero and we’re going to take it on rally by rally and just enjoy ourselves. That was the whole thing.
“The outlook on it changed and the way Chris started basically showing me how to develop the notes and also how much work I really should be doing on the notes because compared to Croatia onwards I would say I probably do 50% less work on the actual pacenotes than I did before, which was just more getting me down to trusting what I’m writing and not over complicating it.”
Statistics suggest that Safari Rally Kenya was Greensmith’s best round of the season as he netted a career-best fourth, but DirtFish feels Rally Portugal – where Greensmith was right on the pace before a puncture and mechanical drama waylaid him – was the most impressive.
“To be honest in my opinion Finland was my best performance of the year,” he says.
“The results didn’t look that way [sixth] but that for me was my strongest performance relative to any of my team-mates and also when I was watching my driving, that was the one where I felt like… I obviously still had plenty to improve on but the least amount to improve on.
“For sure Portugal was a rally that suited the car very well and it obviously showed that in the times, we were just a bit unlucky with the problem we had because I think that was our one chance for a podium this year. But the pace was for sure there.
“Kenya was a really enjoyable rally and probably the rally I enjoyed the most especially when battling with Adrien [Fourmaux] constantly throughout the rally, so yeah it was really good.”
An overlooked aspect of Greensmith’s renovation is that the mistakes have been ironed out too. He has suffered some poor results still this season, but almost all of those haven’t been self-inflicted.
“That’s certainly one of the things that M-Sport, Malcolm and Rich [Millener] were most happy with,” he says.
“Rich said quite a few times how impressed he was with my consistency this year, the only mistake I made all year in terms of putting the car off was down to a pacenote error, just far too fast and just slipped wide. And we know what Ypres’s like, if you go in a ditch you’re not getting out.
“That was the only big error of the year so consistency [wise], finishing 11 out of the 12 rallies through no driver errors, was very good.”
The upshot is Greensmith now looks like the driver he’s always known he can be, but the rest of the world has regularly – and often justifiably – questioned up until now.
He finally looks like he belongs at the top table of the WRC. And he feels it too.
“Yeah it does now,” Greensmith says when asked if it now feels like he has fully earned his place at M-Sport and in the WRC.
“At the beginning of the year we made the changes and I’ve always been very honest about what I think, and for me I had to do better. But the thing was I knew I could do better, the self-belief’s never changed.
“The self-belief’s never died, I just needed to find a way to get to where my potential can be, and that’s what we’ve done throughout the year. There’s still a long way to go, I’ve still a hell of a lot to improve on but we’ve certainly gone in the right direction in some big ways and we want to carry that on into next year.
“Obviously we believe that the car is looking competitive and obviously the Fiesta, as brilliant a car as it was, hasn’t been developed at the same rate as the Toyota and the Hyundai, and I think that sometimes doesn’t help portray an image of exactly where we are,” adds Greensmith.
“Whereas next year I think will give us a much better, much more level playing field with it being a brand-new set of regulations. Me and Adrien both said that we’re both confident of what we can do next year but obviously we’ll never know until we get to Monte Carlo, Sweden and Croatia onwards.”
That opportunity, to know that he should be fighting on an even keel without an experience or potential equipment deficit, must excite Greensmith?
“Yeah,” he confirms, “I think pretty much every single young driver has said the same thing that the new rule changes are going to suit them because no-one’s got any more experience than anyone else. We’re all looking forward to it.”
That tees up the obvious question though, what can Greensmith achieve in 2022? What targets has he set?
“The stage win, I think I missed out on the stage win this year about six times by like less than a second. So for sure that’s the first one to tick off the list,” he says, perhaps to nobody’s surprise, “and I think it’s just one of them, we’ll need to see where we are.
“I think we’re all going to be confident that we’ll be certainly a hell of a lot closer than this year. We’ll just see, that’s the thing, it’s hard to set targets of where we expect to be until we kind of know after the first few rallies.
“But for sure, we want to start off strong, start off consistent and then build from there.”
A sensible approach, but the hard work really only does start here. It’s one thing to execute a career turnaround, it’s another to keep up the momentum.
Can Greensmith do it? It’s hard not to think so as all the elements appear to now be slotting into place. With Jonas Andersson in and gelling as quickly as Patterson did, the only thing that can really stop Greensmith is himself.
He’s aware 2022 is the biggest year of his young career to-date, and he’s determined to make the most of it.
“Both me, my dad and everyone in the team all pinpointed this one as the big year,” he says.
“I feel like this is the best place we can be out of the years that we’re kind of looking at: the new regulations, a year with Chris and how much we improved so we all agree that ’22 is the big, big year of my career so far.
“But that’s not really putting any pressure on anything, it’s just appreciating that we’re in a good position and it’s a year to really put the effort in and make something work.”
Had Greensmith said that 12 months ago, nobody would have taken him seriously. Now? Write him off at your peril.