Callum Devine will make the long journey south to the Cork 20 knowing his Irish Tarmac season will end with the number 1 door card on his Ford Fiesta R5. 2019 has been a progressive year for the young driver who started his season at the West Cork Rally with #14 on the door. Devine’s ambitions now have him focused on ending the season with a debut Irish Tarmac Rally win.
“It’s an honour to be seeded number one on an international rally,” says Devine. “The pace has been good all year and we’ve been building it up all the time.
“We’ve given our best on every event this year, it has been flat out since the word go, within our own limitations.
“We’ve been working on our notes and our car set-up on every rally, making changes to make it work better.
“It’s working and we’re going to do the same thing again this weekend but I think we have to go for the win this time.”
Devine has hit fine form over the summer, finishing third on his past three events. A stunning performance in Donegal, where he finished as the top R5 competitor, was sandwiched between strong performances at the Rally of the Lakes and the Ulster Rally.
The 25-year-old used his first three rallies of the year to gauge his Fiesta R5’s performance on Ireland’s unique asphalt roads. He then made a step up in speed at Killarney. It’s been three events since that step and now Devine is looking to make the jump to first overall.
It’s a methodical approach that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the digger driver from Claudy but when jokes are set aside, it’s obvious Devine is determined to take the right steps to become a better driver and a consistent challenger for rally wins.
“We’re at a pace at the minute that’s quite comfortable but we’re still going quite hard but I always think of how can we go faster.
“I’m just thinking about my notes and how I can get the set-up more precise for each stage. At the minute we just pick a set-up that will do a weekend.
“I remember seeing something Craig [Breen] did at Killarney which was the perfect example of what I need to be at to go faster.
“On Molls Gap on the first day of the rally, he went up the Gap and took time out of us. That was just pure experience but before the next stage Craig and Paul got out of the car and started rising the car up. And that’s not easy to do.
“You could see the sweat was coming off him to get it done because we were standing watching him saying, “Here, this is some job, do we not do this here in service?”
“We went into Molls Gap knowing that our set-up would work but you knew then it wouldn’t on the next stage because it was wild bumpy and jumpy. I just thought, “Well there you go that’s what you have to do.”
“It was good to know that Craig felt he had to do that to be faster and it was good to see that is what you need to be doing at that level.
“It is alright having it set up to do it all but if you want to find the extra percentages then you’ve got to start working with it.
“We are learning, this is only our first year in the car so we’re just trying to figure out stuff.
“Our mechanic, Neil MacHugh, is a young fella too, he’s well switched on and he’s learning too. We’re trying to find our set-ups, he keeps a data log of it and I keep a data log as well.
“It’s working, the set-up is quite good at the minute.”
For Devine, the proof is in the pudding when it comes to the car’s set-up. Taking what he had learned from Killarney and the Easter Stages, he then made time for a test before the big one – Donegal.
“We just realised the work that is required to get the right set-up and it just clicked at Donegal.
“We knew what we were going into at Donegal, having done the stages before so that helped.
“Learning how to set the car up has made the biggest difference for me this year.
“It has stuck on me now that I need to work on everything, notes as well, that’s been a big thing for me this year.”
Through the year Devine’s pace has edged its way closer to that of Ireland’s experienced International drivers, Breen and Alastair Fisher. If Devine can continue his upward trajectory of speed he too will be seen as the man to beat on Irish Tarmac events. His talent may have come to life this year but perhaps it comes as a result of a more challenging year in 2018.
“When I went to Junior WRC, the pace from shakedown on was go, go, go to the door handles.
“If you’re not fast enough on shakedown you’re not going to find it on the first day.
“I was always quick coming up through R2s, I had a set-up and worked with that. Over there you had guys doing pre-event tests and picking a couple of set-ups that work.
“I remember they all had wee books, now this is guys in R2s, and they were covering up what their set-ups were. That was the competition compared to rallying over here.
“When I was in the BRC with William Creighton and Liam Regan you would have helped them whenever you could to keep them going. But over there you are on your own, bar a few, they are not going to help you out. It’s about figuring it out for yourself.
“When we came back here we knew, right we have to be fast from the word go and that comes from confidence in the car’s set-up.
“Craig has shown in every rally this year that the first stage matters. Even Killarney he took the time out of Alastair early on, we just weren’t at it and you don’t get that time back. Everyone gets up to speed quite well but if you want to be up there with Alastair or Craig you have to be at it from the word go.
“We’re the only boys that have been out of the country doing World Championship events, Alastair and Craig, and the JWRC was some eye-opener for me last year.”
As he looks to take advantage of the Fisher and Breen names missing from Cork 20’s entry list, Devine knows it still won’t be plain sailing.
“It won’t be easy being first on the road. From a navigator’s point of view, you’re the person checking-in the times, you can’t just follow the person in front. It’ll be unfamiliar territory.
“It will be a new experience to take in. Even in Donegal, you could see the brake marks from cars in front from the first stage so it will be interesting in that type of way.
“The stages seem to be quite technical. I watched a couple of in-cars, and they were quite busy.
“There is a lot in the notes but I like that style of driving. Sort of like Molls Gap – quite busy and then bits which open out onto main roads.
“They usually have good stages down in Cork from my memory so hopefully it’s the same again.”