Waking up yesterday morning, Gus Greensmith reached over and checked his phone, just like any 26-year-old would.
But it wasn’t a notification from TikTok, Instagram, WhatsApp or even his emails that caught his attention.
Instead, it was Sportity.
‘Stewards Decision No.16’ is available.
Thirty seconds after waking up, the complexion of Greensmith’s entire day changed.
Inside that document lay a gift – the lead of WRC2.
Oliver Solberg had had a minute added to his overall rally time for performing a few donuts at the end of Saturday’s Lousada superspecial stage – a breach of the rally regulations.
“About 30 seconds after I woke up I found out that he had the penalty and I knew that the gap was 24 seconds,” Greensmith told DirtFish.
“So at that point I was happy with the pace I had yesterday, that would be more than enough to see it through to the end.”
It’s worth remembering too that at this point, Greensmith was simply happy to be in the rally after a water leak aboard his Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 threatened to end it all the day before.
As he put it, he “didn’t think we’d make it” through the day as he and co-driver Jonas Andersson resorted to filling the car with all sorts just to coax it back to service in Matosinhos.
But little did he know more stress was in store.
“I thought after yesterday afternoon I couldn’t possibly have anything more to deal with but today was just as dramatic,” Greensmith said. “And dealing with Oliver when he is on-song and dealing with problems, ah god…”
With a 24.6-second lead to defend, Greensmith should’ve had an easy run of it on Sunday.
Solberg may have been coming at Greensmith hard, determined to wrest the lead back off him, but with just 34 miles of stages there were no concerns that he couldn’t hold on.
2.5 seconds were dropped on the day’s first stage, but that was no drama. Lining up to take on the first pass of the famous Fafe stage, everything was normal.
But then Greensmith noticed something.
“On the start line I always do the same thing,” he explained. “13 seconds to 10 seconds before we start, I turn the steering wheel and the steering wheel was just completely locked. Couldn’t turn and I realized something’s not right with the steering.
“I launched into the stage, first corner absolutely fine, second corner it locked again, up the bank, almost rolling and then yeah, somehow managing to get through to the end of the stage.”
Solberg again set the pace, pulling 6.6s out of Greensmith. The lead now was down to just 15.5s. This is where the nerves started to settle in, as with an unwell Škoda that wouldn’t be so simple to defend.
“We did what we could to fix it,” Greensmith said, “[but] we definitely didn’t fix it, so we’re not quite sure what’s going on.”
Solberg smelt blood, and glued his right boot to the throttle. Another 6.8s were carved out of Greensmith’s lead on the penultimate test, setting up a grandstand finish on the powerstage.
“We kind of knew the time we would be dropping just from looking at the other stages but then I also know that Oliver’s probably one of, if not the best drivers in deep ruts that I’ve ever come across,” Greensmith recalled.
“So I knew that he was probably going to be able to find even more time than he had on the first pass. So I knew I had to push but there were also parts in the stage where through long, fast corners, I can’t turn the steering. I had to somehow try and keep it on the road.”
Solberg, meanwhile, went berserk.
“I pushed to the very, very, very limit,” he told DirtFish.
“I had a few moments, I can admit that! But you can do it once, you can try once, not every stage.”
Solberg went in first, but Greensmith had no way of knowing how fast his Toksport team-mate had gone.
His only solution?
“I did what I could.”
But the splits looked worrying.
At 4.44km Greensmith had already dropped 3.5s, then at 8.9km he was 6.6s down. Another 2.1s dropped and Solberg would snatch victory.
His time for the final split at 10.29km came in. 7.2s down. It was all in the final jump and drag to the line.
More time was dropped, but it was only two tenths and so Greensmith clung on by the skin of his teeth – fending off Solberg by just 1.2s.
“It was literally only just enough,” he said. “I think 1.2 might be the shortest victory ever in WRC2, so yeah, some battle.”
It would be easy to downplay the quality of Greensmith’s drive given the controversial penalty for Solberg was the only reason he realistically had a shot.
But Greensmith would have been far closer to Solberg had he not had the misfortune of a puncture on Friday and that water leak on Saturday.
Neither of those issues were Greensmith’s fault, whereas Solberg was the architect of his own downfall. And in hanging on, Greensmith showed a different side to his game as well.
In México the former M-Sport driver won from the front, but in Portugal he won with his back against the wall.
He’s building a convincing WRC2 title challenge – currently trailing Solberg by just two points with both having entered three events so far.
But the intensity of last weekend’s victory took its toll.
“It’s a long sleep, not a beer tonight.”
No hangover this morning, but probably not any notifications as pleasing as yesterday, either.