It’s no secret that Irish drivers have been exceeding in the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National series over the past few years.
Big names like reigning champion Barry McKenna, Seamus Burke, John Coyne and returnee Enda McCormack and many more all hail from the Emerald Isle.
It therefore came as no real surprise earlier this year when it was announced that two of Ireland’s finest up and comers would be hitting the stages of last weekend’s DirtFish Olympus Rally.
But former Junior WRC driver Callum Devine and Hyundai Motorsport junior driver Josh McErlean were unfamiliar faces to many at Olympus, but no-one will forget their visit to US soil any time soon.
Devine, behind the wheel of McKenna Motorsports’ brand new Fiesta Rally2, and McErlean driving Enda McCormack’s Hyundai i20 R5 made a name for themselves immediately.
The Irish counterparts managed to hold first and second position in the RC2 class on every stage on Friday, and also never placed lower than fifth between them.
McErlean even capped off the day with an overall stage win on the Wildcat stage, by far the most difficult of the entire rally, beating Travis Pastrana by nearly a full two seconds; no easy feat given the speed Pastrana carried all weekend and the power advantage of his Open class Subaru.
While going into Saturday’s stages Devine seemed like an absolute shoe-in for a podium finish too, the new Fiesta’s teething problems started to show, and Devine ended up having to retire due to mechanical issues.
“We’ve been having a little bit of engine problems or technical problems, been down on power sort of all weekend.” Devine said after pulling into service early after SS9. “It’s a tricky one to be honest though, we just can’t put our finger on it.”
The Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy they definitely make dreams come true looking at trophiesJosh McErlean
Despite this, Devine only had good things to say about his first competitive drive in the US.
“The car’s been handling fantastic. It’s been working well in the conditions. The stages have been class, I’m really enjoying them.”
“It’s been a good experience up until this, it’s just a bit of shame [to retire].”
Regardless of the retirement, Devine proved that even when down on power, he was able to keep up with – if not outperform – most of the field until it became too great a problem.
But while Devine had the new-car issues, McErlean’s i20 was already broken in and continued to prove itself through the second leg of the rally, taking him to a first in class and third overall at the finish of McErlean’s American outing.
“It’s quite phenomenal, obviously [to] come over here first time to get a podium is quite surreal,” McErlean enthused.
“The stages were quite a challenge, especially [Friday] and the conditions that we had but to get a stage win also was great against these Open class cars.”
Being McErlean’s first rally of the year, he saw it as more of a pre-season test, but to land on the podium was a huge bonus.
“Obviously it’s a big thanks to Enda McCormack and John Coyne for pulling everything together, the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy they definitely make dreams come true looking at trophies so yeah, it’s been a great experience.”
Coyne, the RC2 class staple, was predominantly responsible for pulling these two future stars across the pond.
“I’m involved with it, Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy and was the mover behind bringing them out here,” he said. “We wanted to give them some miles before the European Championship kicks off and yeah, I think it’s been fantastic.
“Josh did a tremendous drive, his stage win on Wildcat was just the icing on a very good cake so great to see.
“Callum went well too, had some issues with the engine unfortunately that held him back but good to see them out here getting miles and spicing up the competition.”
Coyne described the stages of Olympus as very similar to Welsh and Irish stages, so maybe it’s no surprise Devine and McErlean were able to excel here.
“I did this event for the first time last year and felt right at home,” he said. “It was raining heavily all the time, fog on the mountains and stages that were very similar to what I’m used to so superb, and this was just a tremendous event.”
While we’re not sure what the near future holds for Devine other than piloting a similar M-Sport Fiesta Rally2 overseas, McErlean – who is competing on the opening round of the Portugese championship this weekend – said anything is on the table for him.
“Hopefully we get to experience some WRC rounds” he said of his 2021 season, “hopefully maybe some more ARA would be great.
“There’s a lot of effort trying to get about so we’ll keep on pressing on.”
With the massive increase in competition the ARA has experienced this year with the likes of Ken Block returning for a championship run, McKenna bringing over his WRC car, and now two of Ireland’s finest juniors, who knows what’s next?