After a seven-week break, Callum Devine will renew his European Rally Championship campaign on next weekend’s Rally Fafe Montelongo. The Motorsport Ireland backed driver is striving to bounce back from a difficult string of rallies over the tail-end of summer.
When Devine packed his bags for Italy and the ERC two months ago he couldn’t have imagined the challenges he’d face over the following four weeks. His quick burst of three rallies came to a sudden end on a fast gravel corner on Rally Liepaja.
A crushing barrel roll into the Latvian wilderness was as big as they come. The toughest of endings to an onerous period on foreign soil for the Northern Irish driver. It was time for home, and Devine was relieved to swap his rally car for a digger for a few weeks.
“I was happy to get back to work,” admitted Devine. “Rallying was probably the last thing I was looking at, it was a bad run for a month or two on those rallies.
“Fair enough, these things happen and it is all part of the game.
“It has probably been good though to recharge the batteries and now I am keen to give it a rattle again.”
As painful as it may be to look back at his three DNFs, the 26-year-old knows he has to take something from Rally di Roma, Rally di Alba, and Rally Liepaja. Thankfully, as Devine got the laptop out, headphones in, and onboard footage up, he noticed some areas for improvement.
“I’ve just been able to see where my confidence is lacking while I watched those onboards.
“There are wee small things, they might help, they might not. But it is all running around my head at the minute. I just need to try it and see.
“We’ve got a test out there at the rally and some ideas for a set-up change.
“I think the wee break did us good and being back on tarmac probably helps us a bit.”
The trials of 2020 have somewhat stunted Devine’s confidence from last year’s performances in Ireland and Rally Hungary. The Hyundai Junior has these drives to gauge himself and he knows he has a lot more to offer.
“I know we can go harder, it has been that sort of a thing.
“Brian and I were having that discussion and he feels it too in a way that I am not at my full potential.
“I can’t turn around and say the car is bad because other guys are doing well in it. It is just taking a bit of time to change my driving style.
“I noticed it in my onboards, some bits are hesitant. I’m not biting the wheel from the get-go yet.
“Some cars handle differently I suppose and it’s not like it’s a bad thing, I just need to get on top of it. The car is well capable. I’m just taking a wee bit longer to dial into it maybe than I would like to have thought.
“You think you are driving hard and you have no answer for it. But when you sit back and analyse it, I’m not at my sweet point.
“I was comparing some of my onboards to my Irish Tarmac [Rally Championship] rounds like the Easter Stages. In areas, I seemed a lot more committed back then.
“But at the same time it’s not miles away, we just need to put it all together.”
In many ways, Rally Fafe Montelongo offers a fresh start for Devine. The remaining rounds of the ERC are asphalt-based, Devine’s favoured surface. He can focus on finding his feet with the Hyundai on the one surface, no “chopping and changing” between events.
Cavan’s James Fulton comes in as Devine’s co-driver with his regular wingman, Brian Hoy, unable to quarantine for two weeks. The fresh start in Portugal continues as Devine and Fulton will sit in a new i20 chassis which has kept the PCRS team busy over the past few weeks.
Rally Fafe Montelongo is a new event for the majority of crews and with the ERC only announcing the event’s addition a few weeks ago it hasn’t left much time for Devine and Co. to prepare.
Rested and ready for an important ERC return, Devine is focusing on his own improvements rather than throwing a result on the table this time around.
“I’ve been keeping on top of my fitness and I’ve been trying to find all of the in-cars from the event.
“There is some boy in a Saxo and some boy in a wee Fiesta. The rest of the videos are back in 2006 so it was hard to know what to be watching.
“It looks quite similar to Italy, it’s got the same sort of tarmac.
“The car is all ready to go, the guys have been busy. We’ve got a new shell, I think she’s [ALZ R] 571.
“Chassis 50, she is no more anyway, but the guys have done a great job getting the car ready.
“We would just like to get restarted and gather a bit of momentum.
“We haven’t specifically set a target or a result this weekend. I just want to see improvements from myself and find that rhythm and speed through the weekend.”
Rally Fafe Montelongo marks the halfway point in this year’s European Rally Championship. Three more asphalt rounds in Hungary, Spain, and Belgium will complete the series. It’s the perfect chance for Devine to master his Rally2 Hyundai’s asphalt set-up and hopefully provide a nice stepping stone into a more normal season next year.
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Photos courtesy of Hyundai Motorsport and European Rally Championship