Mark Blundell battled hard at Donington Park over the weekend as his maiden campaign in the British Touring Car Championship continued. After a disappointing qualifying session, that was interrupted by several red flags, the 53-year-old rookie was tasked with working his way through the pack from the back of the grid. After an incident in race two brought an early end to his race, Blundell had to settle for a P23 and a P22 finish in the first and third contests of the weekend.
Fresh off the back of a successful debut weekend at Brands Hatch three weeks earlier, the former Formula One star headed to the Leicestershire-based track hoping to build on his early season progress. Having battled with the setup of the car at the official in-season test at Thruxton a week earlier, Blundell and the Trade Price Cars Racing team worked hard to find the solutions throughout the early stages of the weekend.
Unfortunately, both Saturday’s free practice sessions were brought to an early conclusion after on-track incidents brought out the red flag before the #8 HP Audi S3 car got to set its flying lap times.
With traffic becoming a real issue in qualifying while trying to dial in a quick lap time, Blundell ultimately got himself caught up in this leading to an incident and another disqualified lap time - just as had been the case at the first race weekend around the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit. Forced with making his way through from the back of the grid once more, the 53-year-old managed to keep his nose clean through much of the carnage of the opening laps and delivered a steady performance on the less favourable, harder compound tyre to bring the car home in P23 gathering further vital data in the process.
Owing to his earlier finishing position, Blundell lined up in P23 for start of the day’s second race looking to force his way into the points-paying positions. Getting off the line well for a good start, the Trade Price Cars Racing driver made up a number of positions through the first few corners but any hope of a positive finish was ended by the conclusion of the race’s second lap. Right on the tail of his competitor and attempting to make a move down the inside, contact followed within the braking zone which sent both Blundell and Sam Osborne parading over the grass and into the gravel.
Thanks to the team’s hard work, the #8 HP Audi S3 was repaired in time for the afternoon’s final race of the day. Forced to line up from the rear of the grid, Blundell set about clawing in those in the immediate positions ahead of him. Not able to make a move stick in the opening phases, Blundell made his way up the grid owing to early retirements of others before the 53-year-old became embroiled in a close battle for position with Osborne for the second time of the day. Delivering his most consistent lap-times of the weekend, Blundell managed to make the place his own to secure a P22 to close the day.
Reflecting on a challenging weekend, Blundell was keen to reflect on the progress made whilst emphasising the work still left to be done ahead of rounds seven, eight and nine at Thruxton in three weeks time.
“It has been a difficult weekend. We didn’t have much luck with red flags and the weather in the early stages of the weekend which meant we were a little on the back foot from that point onward. Naturally I want to be fighting it out further up the field but I have to keep reminding myself this is only my second weekend of Touring Car competition.”
“Positively, the final race of the weekend was the closest I feel we have got to so far in terms of the correct setup of the car. It felt as stable as it has done so now we need to go and find some more pace alongside that. I’m confident that we are heading in the direction but we need to work as hard as we can do to get to where we want to be as quickly as we can.”
Mark’s next outing comes in three weeks time for the first of two visits to Thruxton this season, across the weekend of the 18th and 19th of May.