Gus Greensmith’s desire to chalk off a maiden World Rally Championship podium on next week’s Rally Portugal is hardly the most radical of pre-event statements.
A driver wanting a top three finish on a rally they consider their favorite in the championship is to be expected. What’s intriguing is his seemingly all or nothing approach in order to make it happen.
But the real key is Greensmith’s claim doesn’t feel misplaced. There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that the #44 Ford Puma Rally1 can’t be on the rostrum next Sunday.
The progress Greensmith has made over the last 12 months is well documented, but his 2022 season has quietly gone unnoticed in amidst the Kalle Rovanperä show, the rejuvenated Séb vs Séb battle and the tribulations of M-Sport team-mate Adrien Fourmaux’s year to date.
Fifth place on the Monte Carlo Rally, where he was frequently quicker than big off-season signing Craig Breen, was a more than solid return that came with the ecstasy of Greensmith’s first WRC stage win – claimed in pure circumstances where every driver was pushing.
A repeat result on Rally Sweden was a light relief given Greensmith struggled badly for confidence on the first day, while a Croatia Rally result went begging when he was forced to retire on the road section back to Zagreb on Friday afternoon with too many punctured tires.
Another top five might’ve been possible – Greensmith certainly reckons so – but that lost result could ironically be a huge blessing in disguise.
Slipping from fourth to seventh in the championship (and with Loeb back and not bumping those behind him up one spot in the running order), Greensmith has an ideal place on the road for Rally Portugal’s first leg.
So provided the Puma’s gravel pace proves to be as strong as it’s been on ice, snow and asphalt, there’s a real case to say that Greensmith is the best placed of M-Sport’s quintet.
Breen hasn’t been in Portugal since 2018 and will be third on the road, Loeb hasn’t driven a rally car competitively in four months and is also early on the road in fourth, Fourmaux simply won’t be able to push given his pressurized situation and Pierre-Louis Loubet is still building his experience in general and his knowledge of the car too.
But forget road order, Greensmith should be considered a threat regardless. The desire is certainly there – Greensmith classes Portugal as a home rally as it was his first WRC event seven years ago, so it’s the ideal place to chase a breakthrough podium.
And the speed exists too – remember his SS1 time last year that was 0.5 seconds off the lead in a Fiesta WRC that was not as developed as its Hyundai and Toyota counterparts?
The end result was a fifth place (then an equal career best) beset by a puncture and a throttle pedal issue, but the potential was obvious with a further string of top-three times throughout the weekend.
Greensmith must start as strongly this time around if he’s going to have a shot at the podium, but if he does he absolutely has all the capability and the ingredients to pull it off. And that’s some compliment given he’s up against 11 other Rally1 cars piloted by drivers who collectively share 18 world championships and 175 rally wins.
The intriguing thing is M-Sport is set to pass up the chance of cashing in on this potential. With Loeb back in the team, Greensmith has been relieved of any responsibility to score manufacturer points – as he was on Monte – and instead will effectively just drive for himself.
Ahead of round one Greensmith was accepting of that reality given his poor 2021 Monte Carlo Rally, even joking his team-mates had the “s*** job this weekend, I’ve got absolutely nothing to lose. I can just enjoy myself and drive a fast, hybrid car”.
- But he did add that “if Séb’s in some more rallies later on in the year I would expect to be the one scoring”.
We don’t know how Greensmith feels about the situation today, but he’d be more than justified to be disgruntled given the patchy form of Fourmaux in the adjacent service tent. Perhaps there’s a Red Bull stipulation in there that Loeb and Fourmaux must both be scoring for the team when competing?
But misjustice or not, the situation could actually work to Greensmith’s benefit. He may feel he’s got a major point to prove given he’s been snubbed by management and thus push himself even harder, but more importantly he has nothing to worry about other than his own performance.
With no worries, a good starting position, likely a strong car and extra desire competing on what’s considered home ground, can you think of anything stopping Greensmith at the very least challenging for a Rally Portugal podium?
Because I can’t.