Nobody needed to say anything. Gus Greensmith said it all. He’d arrived at the end of the season’s opening stage and seen the times on the board. He’d dropped 43.4 seconds in 12 miles.
Andreas Mikkelsen’s leading Rally2 car was just 3.1 down on him. Greensmith pulled off his balaclava, stone-faced.
“I need to drive better,” he said. “That was pathetic.”
You’d have struggled to find anybody in the Monte Carlo Rally service park to disagree with his assessment.
It’s with such sentiment in mind that the 24-year-old looked back on the season opener earlier this month.
“Where I was at the start of this year, I was in no way deserving of being in a World Rally Car.” he told DirtFish, shortly after finishing Ypres Rally.
Greensmith’s had – and has – his critics, but the keyboard warriors who take him to task over his position and his pace pale into insignificance when it comes to his own unstinting self-appraisal. Gus knows where he’s at right now. Like he knows where he’s been and where he’s set his sights on going.
Being absolutely honest, he’s found speed and more consistent speed than I ever thought he’d manage. Earlier this year, I just didn’t see it happening for Greensmith. Then everything changed.
The instigator of change was Chris Patterson. His predecessor in the seat was Elliott Edmondson, clearly a capable co-driver – but one at a different end of his career to Patterson.
Elliott’s WRC journey is in its infancy. Monte was his 29th start at the highest level. Patterson’s 29th WRC starts came alongside Niall McShea in Cyprus, 2003. Since then, there have been another 112 starts.
Chris has been there, he’s seen it and he’s done it. And he’s done it alongside Colin and Alister McRae, Petter Solberg and Kris Meeke.
Patterson brought experience, but fundamentally he’s also brought a direct approach in the car. He’s given Greensmith clarity on what is and what’s not important. The reminder to hold his tongue in the face of adversity is an example of this.
Would Gus have heeded such advice from Elliott, even if had been offered? Unlikely.
Patterson landed into Ford Fiesta WRC #44 with nothing to prove. He’d already retired from rallying’s highest level twice.
“Last year it was pretty tough in every aspect of performing,” said Greensmith. “It was not a nice way to deal with something… you don’t stop loving it, but maybe I stopped enjoying it as much as I should have been. I think that was a very sad thing when we’re as lucky as we are to be driving these cars we’re driving.
“Getting Chris in the car helped, we’ve talked about that a lot. One of the things he showed me is that, actually, it’s not that big of a deal; if you make it into a big deal it could be s**t. I genuinely enjoy what I’m doing. OK, Belgium was a bit of a sh***er, but we’ll crack on.”
It’s not that big of a deal. Drivers are driving cars and loving life.
As Ken Block once told me: “We’re out here doing what we love. We’re not digging ditches.”
There were times last year when Greensmith’s attitude was that of a world champion without a world championship. He was always polite and always gave freely of his time, but there was an air of superiority around him.
That’s gone now. Patterson’s helped ground him. There’s real humility, acceptance and a desire to learn with Gus now. That sort of mindset has probably contributed to his increased speed this year. That and more time in the car and more time at rallying’s highest level.
He took mild exception to me referring to him as an ‘M-Sport customer’. My description was clumsy. Absolutely, he makes a contribution to his M-Sport program, but he certainly doesn’t pay what you or I would pay were we to fancy a Fiesta WRC.
We’ve seen real change in Gus: he’s matured, he’s developed both as a person and as a driverRichard Millener, M-Sport team principal
“We’re investing in Gus as well,” M-Sport Ford World Rally Team principal Richard Millener told DirtFish.
“This whole customer driver thing is difficult. What we’re interested in is where a driver is right now and not how they got there. Where do you draw the line with this? Look at somebody like, for example, Andreas [Mikkelsen] – his father funded his driving for a good few years and that got him the chance to drive at the sport’s top level.
“We’ve seen real change in Gus: he’s matured, he’s developed both as a person and as a driver. I think he now understands how to drive at a competitive speed for the whole event; he can take calculated risks. Don’t forget, these things take time. We’ve seen with guys like Elfyn [Evans] it can take time to get right to the top of the career – it can take as much as five years at the top level.”
The big question for Millener is whether Greensmith’s in the frame for next season?
“Yes he is,” is the answer. “Like I said, we’ve invested in Gus and we feel there’s potential for delivery on that investment. Look at his finishing record. Yes, he’s had some issues earlier this year, but if he hadn’t had those he would have been sitting in the top six in the championship.”
Landing in a ditch on day one in Ypres was Greensmith’s mistake. Having made one blunder, he wasn’t willing to push his pace and risk a second mistake on days two and three in Belgium. A different policy will be employed when he gets to Acropolis Rally Greece next week.
“I want to push,” said Greensmith. “I want my first stage win.”
With the British-flagged Fiesta posting top-six times with increasing regularity, the odds on that happening are shorter than ever now.
Certainly, Gus has delivered on his promise at the end of that season opener in January.