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County Derry rally driver Callum Devine ready for the Italian Job

Irish International Driver of the Year ready for the European stage

County Derry rally driver Callum Devine ready for the Italian Job

Park's Callum Devine prepares for his next challenge

Park rally driver Callum Devine is in Italy preparing ahead of this weekend's Rally di Roma Capitale in Italy, the opening round of the European Rally Championship.

The 26-year-old Irish International Driver of the Year and former Irish Young Driver of the Year touched down on Italian soil on Sunday for the next stage of his rally career.

Devine took part in the Junior World Rally Championship in 2018 and last season finished third in a stage of the European Championship in Hungary in the same Hyundai i20 R5 car he will be behind the wheel of this weekend.

After Tuesday's testing day, Devine and co-driver Brian Hoy, spent Wednesday and Thursday carrying out 'recce' of the course and making notes ahead of Friday's shake-down.

The event properly gets underway on Saturday which will see Callum and Brian tackle six stages before a further nine stages on Sunday conclude the event which spans just under 200km.

“A lot of effort has been put in by Motorsport Ireland and the Rally Academy to making sure I was here,” Devine told the County Derry Post.

“There is the support of Hyundai for me to make a championship assault, so there there is a lot of support being put into it.

“It is a big step and I would say it is the biggest year for us. It is going to be our first year and we will be on the back foot. A lot of the drivers we are competing against are in their second or third season and have done this rally a few times.”

While Devine sees it as a 'learning year' he realises the need to perform and has set his target to in the Junior R5 category.

“The way it has always worked out in years before, if you are fast enough in the juniors you are never that far away from the overall podium.

“Chris Ingram, last year, was planning on winning the junior championship and he got beat on it by 0.06 of a second in the Czech Republic, he lost the junior championship but he went on to win the full European Championship.”

Devine speaks of how the European Championship has lost 'a lot of momentum' to the World Championship, but with Covid-19 forcing the cancellation of other events it will bring all the big hitters to Italy this weekend.

“Craig (Breen) and a lot of the guys who have been here before, there are lot of quick guys that are going to be going for the main championship. It was probably the strongest year in the European Championship for the last five or six years. There are a lot of quick drivers, but that's what you want,” Devine said.

During his World Rally debut in 2018, the Park man had two fourth places and a fifth place finish.

“We were second in Portugal and we had a DNF (didn't finish). In Corsica, we clipped a back wheel and went down, we were heading for the podium there,” he recalls.

“It was one of those years, it didn't click for us. It was a big step, you learn a lot from it. At the time, there wasn't much support and you were left jumping into the unknown into the WRC and how much is involved in it outside of driving of the car, that was the biggest shock but at the same time we enjoyed it.

“It was a challenging year and we are now back on the European (stage) and are where we want to be.  We want to race abroad and see how fast we can be.”

Being named International Driver of the Year last season was a 'big shock' for Devine, given the field of drivers in the hunt for the title.

Apart from a gravel rally in Fivemiletown earlier this year, the sporting lockdown forced Callum into a different type of training.

“I have been keeping fit, I got a bike,” he jokes. “I did a bit of running, I was in the forest and bought the bike and doing prep watching on-boards from the rallies and keeping myself fit and active.”

He pays tribute to Motorsport Ireland and in particular John Coyne for getting another chance to dine at the top table.

“He lives over in the States (USA) but he is a great of Irish rallying. They have gave me a lot of help and if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here.”

For Devine, in his usual laid back conservation, it's time to steer his way towards a podium spot.

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