Five down, two to go – and Callum Devine holds a cushty 14-point advantage in the 2023 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
Devine and his Kerry co-driver Noel O’Sullivan have been flawless in a resurgent streak of three Irish Tarmac wins from the Circuit of Ireland, to the Rally of the Lakes, and most recently an emotional Donegal International Rally victory.
With a 14- and 18-point margin to his nearest rivals Moffett and Meirion Evans, Devine is in a strong position to seal his first-ever Irish Tarmac title.
ITRC’s standings will be decided on the best five scores as well as points-and-a-half on its Ulster Rally decider, meaning Moffett could still retain his title with two wins on the final two rounds.
For Devine, there is only one way he is going to approach the Cork 20 and Ulster Rally.
“To be honest, I am not too sure how the points work going into the last couple of rounds,” admitted the championship leader.
“I will try to get a win in Cork and I want to be going to the Ulster to get a win as well which definitely won’t be easy.
“That is the way I am looking at it. I want to have the pace to be at the front on both of those events.
“My mindset is to go flat out and get up to speed as quickly as I can.
“The other boys will be going hard, that’s the way it is at the moment, the competition is incredibly tight.”
Devine’s season has been one of remarkable contrasts. After proving his title-winning potential with startling pace in periods through 2022, the 29-year-old was left frustrated with fifth- and fourth-place finishes on the opening two rounds of 2023’s series.
With his campaign caving in, Devine drove his heart out on a short and sharp single-day Circuit of Ireland. One slip-up on the Cookstown-based event would have left his season in tatters but Devine showed his class to take a 10.2-second win.
Assured victories in Killarney and Donegal have Devine’s rivals wondering how his recent run of form can be broken.
For now, the focus is on Cork and who will have the upper hand on the intriguing two-day affair.
“The stages are usually quite fast down in Cork,” Devine told Rally Insight. “They are good stages with a lot of high ditches and hedges.
“The grip is quite good as well. If it is dry it will be a really fast rally but when it is wet it does get slippery.
“There are always places that can be shiny as well. It is so easy to get caught out in those areas.
“There can be a lot of muck on the road too from farm machinery. That definitely seems to be a theme in Cork and West Cork. It will all depend on the weather.”
Cork 20’s first of 15 stages starts at 09:00 on Saturday 5 August. If last year’s edition is anything to go by, you won’t want to miss it.
Photos by Gavin Woods