Rising star Devine hoping to lay down a marker in Cork finale
Callum Devine has become the leader of a new group of young chargers who are rising up the ranks of Irish rallying and for the first time on Saturday morning he leads the line-up into the final round of the premier Tarmac Championship, the Cork '20' International.
The likes of James Wilson, Josh McErlean, William Creighton and Jordan Hone are all taking tentative steps up to the main R5 division in the Irish and British Championships after making their mark in the junior R2 category.
Their aim is to emulate the progress made by Devine, who has emerged as a genuine front-runner in the Tarmac series despite it being his first full season in his R5 Ford Fiesta. Third in the standings behind new champion Craig Breen and Alastair Fisher, he assumes the No.1 position in their absence for the Cork finale.
"It's an honour to be seeded No.1 on an international rally," said the 25-year-old former British Junior champion and Billy Coleman Award winner from the Co Londonderry village of Park. "It won't be easy being first on the road. It'll be unfamiliar territory, a new experience to take in."
Third in each of the last three rounds, he was matching Breen's pace on the Easter Stages before causing a stir by popping up in the lead after the first stage in Donegal, eventually finishing as the top R5 driver.
"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 from the word go, within our own limitations, but now is the time to go for the win," he said.
However, despite Breen and Fisher missing this one out, Devine still faces considerable opposition, not least from fellow Ulsterman and another ex-British Junior champion, Marty McCormack, who swaps his regular Skoda Fabia for an R5 Volkswagen Polo, the first to appear in Ireland.
Impressed by the car's performances in European events, McCormack opted for the chance to assess the Dom Buckley Motorsport-prepared Polo in Cork ahead of a possible switch for next season.
"I've really been enjoying driving the Skoda this season but I've been exploring some other options for some time now and when the opportunity came up to drive the Polo, it didn't take me long to say yes," said McCormack.
He tested the car for the first time last week and said: "What a weapon! I can't wait to get started in Cork."
McCormack starts at No.3 behind the Fiesta of 2017 Northern Ireland champion Jonny Greer, and ahead of the Skoda of young Welshman Meirion Evans. Next in line are the Fiestas of local man Daniel Cronin, Andrew Purcell and Tyrone's new Irish Forestry champion Cathan McCourt.
There is a change at No.8 where Robert Duggan, another former British champion stepping up to R5, takes over Eugene Donnelly's Proton Iriz. And 23-year-old Claudy driver Hone makes his R5 debut at No.14 in a Philip Case Hyundai i20, a reward for his runner-up place in the Coleman awards.