Unlike most of his contemporaries in the top flight, Mark Blundell eschewed the usual route to the top via karts for a junior career on motorbikes. From the age of 14, he raced at the top level of schoolboy motocross, becoming a top 36 nationally-ranked rider and winning many championships.
Having achieved all he felt he could on two wheels, the now 17-year old Blundell transferred his abilities onto four wheels, and immediately set about becoming one of Britain’s rising stars in Formula Ford. His debut season proved remarkably prolific, with second places in both British Junior championships (despite 25 race wins, 24 pole positions and 21 lap records) followed by winning both the Golden Helmet and a prestigious Grovewood Award (now known as the Autosport Award); quite remarkable for a driver in their first year of motorsport!
The following season proved that 1984 had been no fluke, as Mark took the British Esso and Champion of Snetterton FF1600 crowns. Having achieved his aim of winning a title, Blundell moved into the higher FF2000 category later in the year, and promptly won the televised BBC Grandstand series but, for good measure, returned to the 1600 class to take pole for the European Cup event, and finish fourth overall – with fastest lap – amongst the best of the world’s FFord drivers at the annual Brands Hatch Festival. These golden year of FF1600 racing have been viewed as some of the best and most competitive with several of the crop reaching F1 in later years.
1986 was no less successful as a full season in FF2000 netted the European crown and runners-up spot in Britain; with only two seasons of four-wheel motorsport under his belt, Mark’s progress was being monitored by many in the sport.
Maintaining his reputation for not sticking to motorsport’s traditional ladder of progression, Blundell then decided to skip Formula 3 in favour of the bigger, more powerful F3000 machines. One step away from grand prix, many expected the Briton to fall on his face but, despite running in a year-old and under-funded car, Mark produced a series of promising displays. Plus, just to prove that he wasn’t avoiding the category altogether, he also tried his hand at five F3 races with the TOMS-Toyota Development Programme, securing a 2nd place.
87 netted a near win for Blundell in F3000 at Spa but because of an accident, the results were taken from the lap before and Mark was credited with a 2nd place – remarkable considering up against the works teams and drivers and achieved with minimum experience of the category. Performances like this caught the attention of some of F3000’s big guns and Mark was offered a works Lola seat for 1988. This allowed him to concentrate fully on his racing, and despite a closely contested season, he duly netted sixth overall with several podiums even though the Lola was not the most competitive car that season.
The following year, Mark continued to contest the international series, but already had his eye on higher things. His F3000 displays again saw him attract offers from other sources, landing a factory seat with the crack Nissan sportscar team and a testing contract with the equally rated Williams F1 outfit for the year.
The following year, Mark continued to contest the international series, but already had his eye on higher things. His F3000 displays again saw him attract offers from other sources, landing a factory seat with the crack Nissan sportscar team where Mark would compete in the World Sportscar Championship in 900 horsepower group C cars, and compete in his first 24 hours of Le Mans. The Williams F1 team also recognised Mark’s talents and offered the 21 year old a multi-year testing contract so within 5 years, Blundell was already driving a Formula One car in anger.
Both deals continued into 1990 with Mark being a different breed as his jump to F3000 showed that after only three seasons in racing, he now had a factory deal with Nissan as a professional sportscar driver as well as being the first of a new generation of F1 test and development drivers. Mark had decided to give up on the pursuit of F3000 glory and he took the Nissan to pole position for the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours – the youngest driver ever to do so, and in a new outright lap record. Mark also holds the biggest margin on pole for the race as 2nd place was 6 seconds behind – the in-car camera footage on You Tube for this race has been viewed by tens of thousands of people as a definite moment in motorsport history.
The 1990’s also saw Mark head off into the world of Automotive Development and help engineers develop the MGTF – another string to his bow.
Once again, his reputation as a driver to watch saw Mark progress upwards, this time to the holy grail of Formula One. His debut season in grand prix racing saw a sixth place finish with the Brabham Yamaha team in Belgium, whilst still continuing to test with Williams – a situation that still to this day, is very rare. The fact that an F1 team would let another F1 team use their driver services to develop a car was a testimony of Blundell’s skills and feedback by Williams.
The increasing decline of the Brabham team unfortunately saw Blundell cast onto the F1 sidelines the following season, but he was snapped up by Ron Dennis for a full-time testing and reserve driver role alongside Senna and Berger of McLaren that would stand him in good stead for the future. He was far from idle between tests either, racing sportscars for the factory Peugeot outfit and adding a race victory to his earlier pole position at the Le Mans 24hrs.
At only Blundell’s third attempt, he was part of a winning Peugeot team headed up by Jean Todt who recognized his qualities and teamed Mark with ex-F1 drivers Derek Warwick and Yanick Dalmas (Mark was the first British driver signed in the history of the French Ligier team). Mark took his first podium finishes with third places in both South Africa and Germany, to seal tenth overall in the world championship. Again, however, he found himself on the move at the end of the year, but was picked up by Tyrrell to lead its charge the following year.
A third place in Spain would prove to be the high point of 1994, before again being left out of the reckoning by a lack of sponsorship. This proved to be something of a blessing in disguise however, as Mark was quickly snapped up by former employer McLaren to replace the side-lined Nigel Mansell. Teamed with future world champion Mika Hakkinen, Blundell recorded five top six finishes to again take tenth spot in the championship race. Blundell out-qualified Hakkinen at Estoril, the same track where Hakkinen out-performed Senna in qualifying – a clear reflection of Mark’s speed was again shown, topped off by adding a fourth place at Le Mans to his growing sportscar CV.
CART CHAMPCAR SERIES
When McLaren signed David Coulthard for 1996, Blundell decided to seek his fortune elsewhere, and ventured across the Atlantic to sample the CART Champcar series. A debut year with the PacWest Racing Group saw him take third overall in the Rookie of the Year contest, and top six finishes in the US500, Detroit and Michigan races, netting the Valvoline and BRDC North America Awards along the way.
Mark’s first full season in IndyCar was short lived after having terminal brake failure in the Rio 200 Brazil. Mark sustained several serious injuries after striking the concrete wall at 198mph and absorbing 122g impact. This accident forced Mark out of his race seat for several months.
Race wins in a major championship finally came Mark’s way in 1997, as he notched up victories at Portland, Toronto and Fontana en route to sixth overall in the CART series. His performances were such that he was to be voted British Competition Driver of the Year by readers of Autosport magazine and also be presented with the BRDC ERA Award.
A disappointing season in 1998 left Blundell languishing further down the points standings than he would have liked, and after sustainging an injury early in 1999 following a massive crash in testing which left him with broken vertebrae, he wound up outside the top 20.
Retained by PacWest for a fifth straight season, Mark Blundell again contested the CART Champcar series in 2000, partnered by Brazilian Mauricio Gugelmin. It was a tough year though and Mark only scored 18 points and slumped to 21st in the championship standings. His teammate Gugelmin in comparison scored 39 and was classified 17th. Mark’s last race in IndyCar saw him take the lead in the California 500 only on completion of that lead lap for the engine to blow.
In 2001 Mark Blundell and PacWest agreed to an amicable split. With the CART scene no longer holding competitive prospects, Blundell switched his attentions back to a European base. From a racing perspective though, the Brit was not able to undertake a full competitive season due to the MB/PW agreement and MB thus concentrated on his MG Le Mans programme.
Despite not finishing the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the MG Lola EX257 impressed on it’s debut, qualifying one-two in the LMP675 class and before both cars retired – one after four and a half hours and the other just after the 12-hour mark – the MG had reached as high as third overall within two hours of the start of the race and also established the fastest wet weather lap, with a blistering third fastest time overall.
In 2002, the Le Mans 24 Hours was once more the focus for Blundell’s on-track activities as he renewed his partnership with MG and the X Power brand to lead a six driver line-up with the MG Lola EX257. His role with the famous British marque was also broadened as he took on the position of ambassador for the MG brand, promoting and advising the company on its various motorsport activities.
The following year  marked another turning point in Mark’s career, although once again he concentrated primarily on sportscar racing and television duties for ITV F1 programme. This was the start of a seven-year career in front of the camera as the primary F1 pundit on the multi BAFTA award-winning ITV F1 show.
For Le Mans he joined Team Bentley, teaming up with former sparring partner Johnny Herbert and Australian ace David Brabham to lead a two-car effort for the famous British marque.
The warm-up at the 12 Hours of Sebring went well, with Mark taking third spot, while the second Bentley came home fourth.
Le Mans itself was also a success, and although Bentley won, unfortunately for Mark, Herbert and Brabham, they had to settle for the runners-up spot, just two laps behind team-mates, Guy Smith, Rinaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen. Although Mark’s car led for several hours, the car was unreliable and cost them a possible win.
After a seven year absence, Mark made his comeback to competitive motor racing in 2010 when he joined United Autosports for the Spa 24 Hours and recorded an impressive third place finish alongside teammates Zak Brown, Richard Dean and Eddie Cheever.
The following year  saw Mark take part in two Grand Am Rolex Series races with United Autosports. Racing alongside former F1 teammate Martin Brundle, Mark took fourth place in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and sixth in the Homestead Miami Speedway race despite being forced off the track late in the race.
For 2012, Mark joined the United Autosports team to spearhead the pro-am crew in the six round 2012 Blancpain Endurance Series. Blundell shared the cockpit of the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 with team co-owner Zac Brown and Mark Patterson. Alongside these demanding races, he also participated in the Volkswagen Scirocco R-Cup at Brands Hatch and finished a respectable 6th place to sit alongside his podium from 2010 and be crowned Legend winner.
2013 sees Mark’s first return to the grid competing in a full race calendar – the British GT Championship. He will again be racing with United Autosports and is looking forward to racing on home soil again for the first time since 1986.