Mark Blundell’s maiden campaign in the British Touring Car Championship drew to a close this weekend with a tough outing at Brands Hatch GP, blighted by misfortune. Some six months after making his series debut at the track in April, Blundell battled hard throughout and ended the season by picking up his eighth top-twenty finish of the season.
The weekend started positively for the former Formula One driver as he got to grips with the damp circuit quickly, closing Saturday’s first practice session in P16. With the weather set to be wet all weekend, Blundell was hoping to continue his good form in the poorer conditions across the weekend. Into the second session of the day, and with the track drying, Blundell saw his best time of 1:42.096 earn him a P23 finish in that session.
As qualifying rolled around, drivers set out to get their banker laps in early with the forecast for heavier rain later in the session. Interrupted by two red flags, Blundell fought to tie up his optimal sector times as he looked set to trouble top-twenty. As the Trade Price Cars driver pushed on his final two flying laps, the rain fell heavier, making it difficult to improve on his earlier best time. Still though, Blundell closed the session with a 1:43.359 which gave him a season’s best qualifying position of P21.
As race day dawned and backed by a huge number of family, friends and partners trackside, Blundell hoped to sign off from his first season in the series in style. Starting race one on wet tyres, the HP #8 car got off to a fantastic start and Blundell was running in P17 by the end of the first few laps. As the track conditions improved, most competitors dived into the pits to change onto slicks to which Blundell followed suit.
Unfortunately, a pit-stop issue with reattaching the front-left kept the former Formula One driver in his box for over a minute. By the time Blundell made it back onto the track, he was no longer in contention for the points and the rest of the race was a case of damage limitation, eventually crossing the line in P22.
Race two was to bring further frustration for Blundell and his team. Again opting to start on wets, Blundell made fantastic progress across the opening stages of the race making his way up to P11. Blundell and his team then rolled the dice to try and turn what was looking likely to be a positive result into a very memorable one by making the early decision to change onto slicks - a gamble that ultimately wouldn’t pay off. A few laps after re emerging from the pits, Blundell got into trouble at Druids as he struggled for grip and exited the track. Beached in the gravel, an early end was brought to Blundell’s penultimate race of the season.
This DNF meant Blundell was tasked with starting the final race of the season from towards the back of the grid in P28. Bogging down on the line, Blundell dropped to the rear of the pack and with the day’s earlier changeable conditions nowhere to be seen, it was to prove to be a case of picking up places where he could. With the championship drama unfolding spectacularly in front of him, Blundell kept his nose clean and brought the car home for the final time this year in P20.
Acknowledging that it had been a tough weekend, Blundell chose to reflect on the campaign with perspective and gratitude.
“This one was just one of those weekends for us. When we gambled, it didn’t pay off and we were on the back foot after the issue in race one. We could have been reflecting very easily on a very different weekend and that is why it is frustrating but some weekends are yours, and some aren’t.”
“Anyone can see that the whole season has been a huge learning curve for me and I do feel that we’ve showed progress and have made improvements across the board. Driving a touring car is an art and one that I am still getting to grips with but it has been a challenge I have relished and enjoyed every step of the way. I’ve got an amazing amount of respect for this championship and all its drivers - there really is some great talent out there and that is great for British motorsport.”
“I’ve had a great team of people around me and I’m hugely thankful for all their support in helping me get to grips with everything that the BTCC provides. I’ve got to say a huge thanks to HP and Intel who we have had a fantastic year-long programme with along with the rest of our partners - I hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of the journey!”