And then there were three.
Oliver Solberg jumped first, Adrien Fourmaux swiftly followed, and now Gus Greensmith has become the third Rally1 driver to dial it down a notch in Rally2 for 2023.
But, as is also the case for Greensmith’s former team-mate Fourmaux and new team-mate Solberg, the perceived step back to WRC2 could well prove to be anything but.
It could prove to be the missing key to unlocking the next level of Greensmith’s World Rally Championship progression.
As he put it to DirtFish, there was no reason for him to say no to a Toksport Škoda program.
“We could never work out a deal with M-Sport which was sad after all the years but the program I’ve got, especially with Škoda Motorsport, I’m really, really happy with,” Greensmith said.
“Both parties said it’s certainly not a goodbye, it’s just that now’s not the right time and I wanted something different.
“But there was no animosity towards the team, I still absolutely love the team and I think that was quite obvious from the social media posts.
“I didn’t want to leave but the opportunity I had to do this and the seat-time it was going to give me was just, for me, an offer that was too good not to take.”
With a potential upside that is too big to ignore.
Greensmith would hardly have been in a bad place had he been offered an M-Sport deal that fulfilled his requirements.
To be simplistic about it, he would have had a far better chance of winning a rally overall this year in a Puma Rally1 than a Fabia RS Rally2.
But there’s equally a very strong case to make that Greensmith has a far better chance of winning multiple rallies in the future having twisted with Rally2 rather than sticking with Rally1.
Experience is the buzz word associated with any young driver in the WRC, but Greensmith isn’t sacrificing any of it by competing in WRC2. He’s still competing, still driving the same rallies and benefiting from plenty of testing.
But this way, he’s doing so with less eyeballs analyzing his every move while also enjoying a realistic shot of winning. That’s good for confidence, good for morale and good for the outside perception of his capabilities as well.
It’s a lot easier to stand out when you’re fighting at the top of a very competitive category than claiming the odd stage win and securing top fives in another.
“I’m actually really looking forward to it,” Greensmith said.
“At the end of the year it was a bit disappointing to step away from M-Sport but the challenge, the competition and fighting for wins again has really got me motivated over the winter, so I can’t wait.
“I think whatever you do in the season will be validated, whether it’s being fast, winning championships or winning rallies. For sure the aim is always to win a championship but the thing is there’s some really good drivers, a great amount of competition so for sure anyone that thinks it’s going to be easy for the WRC drivers who are in WRC2 now, it’s really not going to be.
“It’s going to be a serious championship and I’m very much looking forward to the competition but the one thing I’ve really missed over the last few years is bringing home trophies.
“That was one of the main ambitions and something that’s giving me real motivation for this season, so I’m looking forward to bringing trophies back on a plane with me.”
Greensmith acknowledged that winning those trophies won’t be easy, but that’s part of the appeal.
“Yeah to be honest what I was actually really surprised by when I’ve been looking through social media today was the amount of comments that are saying that people are far more interested in WRC2 next year because of the amount of competition and the level of it than they are in WRC, which I suppose maybe I’ve been a bit blindsided too because being in WRC you’d think that’s the pinnacle,” he explained.
I think most people expected that I was going to do the Toyota thingGus Greensmith
“But today certainly I got a sense that people are really enjoying the amount of competition in WRC2 and I think WRC Promoter would be wise to make sure they broadcast as much of it as they can because for sure I think there’s going to be a lot of good battles.
“I think there’s eight really strong drivers in the championship, and then there’s a lot of drivers coming through as well, so it’s a proper, proper championship this year.”
Greensmith’s season will begin with Rally México in two months’ time, but he won’t be out of the seat for long. Plenty of testing is already booked into the diary, and that’s not all with “a small rally in Europe which is to be decided” also filtering into his plans before the flight to León .
It’s undoubtedly an important step, and Greensmith wants to make sure he’s ready – particularly because he has “never rallied anything that isn’t an M-Sport built car”.
“It’ll be good to work with a new team,” he said.
“Obviously it’s a very successful team at the moment, it’s the team to be with as the champion’s team and I’m going to be driving what’s probably the best car.
“From what we can see so far it’s already looking very good so there’s nothing really there that said no.
“I think most people expected that I was going to do the Toyota thing but when you look at the value of what you’re getting, the seat time that I’ll get at Škoda is absolutely massive so that was a big thing for me.”
The Toyota thing Greensmith referred to was the potential of renting a fourth GR Yaris Rally1 – the one sat vacant when Takamoto Katsuta competes for the works team in Sébastien Ogier’s absence this year.
It was certainly a consideration for Greensmith, but didn’t quite marry up with what he needed.
“I’m definitely not opposed to a couple of outings,” he explained, “but I suppose my primary focus this year is WRC2 so anything that we do outside of that is something that’s extra and certainly not on my mind at the moment.”
And quite right, too.
It may be a bit of a wait before it gets going – Greensmith admitted he’s “trying not to think about” just doing the recce and not competing in Monte Carlo “because Monte’s one of my favorite rallies and after last year it’s absolutely one of my favorites”.
But you know what they say about those who wait.
Greensmith has made a brave call in stepping back to WRC2 considering what he’s traded it in for. If the season doesn’t go to plan, he’s got an awful lot to lose.
But as it stands, he’s actually got a hell of a lot to gain. In front of him lies a very real opportunity to switch things up, learn new things in a different environment and a different setting, and fully show the world what he’s got.
There’s no regret in this so-called backwards step, just plenty of excitement and ambition instead.