Experiencing every emotion during Byrne’s weekend of firsts

There were plenty of positive stories to come out of the 2022 West Cork Rally. Fine margins at the front, stages filled with spectators, high quality throughout a 200-car field. One such story came to me on Sunday morning’s Parc Ferme.

Eight stages into his Rally2 debut, Donegal’s Shane Byrne was nervously checking his co-driving gear inside Callum Devine’s rally-leading Ford Fiesta. The courteous co-driver paused his morning routine to have a quick chat.

I suppose it was a bit disappointing in the end but I woke up on Monday morning with a big smile on my face.

Shane Byrne

With six tests to go on Sunday, Devine and Byrne held a 4.4-second lead over Galway winners Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes. While many crews savoured West Cork’s late start on Sunday, full of anticipation it was clear that Byrne just wanted to get his day underway.

Butterflies, nerves, jitters – I expect he had them all. Just over 24 hours earlier, Byrne completed his first stage in a Rally2 car, his first stage calling pacenotes to Devine, and it all kicked off his first battle for an overall rally victory.

Now, he was about to undertake the unknowns of starting first on the road in a rally for the very first time.

It’s a special story. A unique one that we all thought might have a fairytale ending but as we know Devine and Byrne’s debut together unravelled with an unfortunate retirement halfway through Sunday.

Their West Cork Rally challenge ended when Devine’s Rally2 Fiesta ground to a half with gearbox failure on its way to Stage 12.

So, how does one describe a weekend of firsts that had the most important “first” snatched away at the very last moment?

Well, I’ll leave the explaining to the man himself, Shane Byrne:

“How do I feel after West Cork? I suppose it was a bit disappointing in the end but I woke up on Monday morning with a big smile on my face.

“I was competing at the top end over the weekend and it was just an incredible two days of rallying. I am so so happy with what we achieved. The mechanical was unfortunate at the end but that is rallying, as they say.

“We had done some testing together before so I had an idea of what the speed in a Rally2 car was going to be like.

“In West Cork it was just a case of doing that competitively against the clock. There is a car ahead of you, a car behind you, and suddenly you are fighting for tenths of seconds.

“I have to admit, there was a little fist pump when I realised we were quickest through West Cork’s first stage in Ardfield.

“The feeling inside the car was amazing, to be honest. Everything was working so well together; driver, co-driver, tyres, the car was turning in the way Callum wanted.

“Driving on rails; it is a special feeling flying down a stage in those cars. When Callum was able to brake so late with everything working perfectly, it is hard to explain, but it is pretty damn cool.

“I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous heading out as first car on the road on Sunday morning. I was actually watching Gordon Noble quite closely on Saturday, just what he was doing at arrival controls and places like that.

“He was keeping in contact with the people running the stage. Obviously when you go up there you might hear a provisional start-time or whatever. I asked Gordon for a few tips on Sunday morning and everything was fine.

“The nerves disappear as soon as you get into the car, it is more the anticipation beforehand.

“I spent quite a bit of time on Saturday night double checking everything on the road book. I was using Google Maps to follow the route of the road book to make sure that all the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed.

“When you have all the preparation done at least you are confident that you can focus on the job at hand inside the car.

“I enjoyed being first on the road, it has its disadvantages surely but it is still a nice experience. The ditches are lined with people waiting for you to arrive in anger, it is something special.

“There were just some funny moments, like I remember going to get our start-time and I saw the names around us: Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes, Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson, Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble. It was so surreal to be in the middle of the best crews in the country.

“It has definitely given me a taste for more. I have to take these opportunities with both hands and hopefully I’ll be in one again soon.”

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Photos by Adam Hall and Roger Dawson