Mark Blundell fought hard this weekend at Oulton Park to continue to show further signs of progress as his debut campaign in the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship reached the halfway stage. Taking on one of the showpiece events of the season at the Cheshire-based track, the 53-year-old bounced back from disappointment in race one to record a top-twenty finish in the weekend’s final outing.
Heading into the weekend with his confidence buoyed after a positive performance at Croft Circuit just a fortnight earlier, Blundell was hoping to continue his upward trajectory alongside the Trade Price Cars Racing team. Unlike his last outing, Blundell was returning to a more familiar track in the shape of Oulton Park, a circuit where the former Formula One driver had enjoyed positive memories within his junior formula career.
Welcomed by the season’s warmest conditions to date on Saturday morning, the weekend started with the 1992 24 Hours of Le Mans winner finding himself in P27 after the conclusion of the morning’s first free practice session with a 1:27.977. Making nearly half a second of progress in free practice two, Blundell climbed the order to find himself in P19 ahead of the weekend’s all-important qualifying session.
Unfortunately, the HP and Intel sponsored driver could not extract any more time from the #8 Audi S3 in qualifying and had to settle for a P26 starting position for race one on Sunday. Although disappointed with Saturday’s ultimate outcome, Blundell continued to show further progress in narrowing the gap to his teammate, Jake Hill.
The disappointment continued into Sunday’s first race of the weekend for Blundell as contact in the second lap of the race resulted in substantial damage to the rear left of the Brit’s Audi S3. Compromised by this, Mark fought to keep pace with the group ahead but ultimately had to settle for an early retirement from race one due to rising engine temperatures.
Lining up from P27 on the grid for the second race of the day, and on the harder tyre compound with the majority of his counterparts opting for the optional softer tyre, Blundell set out to gather his first full-race distance of the weekend. Across a chaotic race up and down the grid, Blundell managed to keep his nose out of trouble while showing improved pace, lapping nearly a second quicker than in race one to bring it home in P23.
On the softer tyre for the final race of the weekend, Blundell initially dropped back to P25 on the opening lap before fighting his way back up the order to claim his fourth top-twenty result of the season with a P18 finish.
Although perhaps not showing in the headline results, Blundell was happy with the further signs of progress displayed this weekend ahead of the championship’s summer break.
“We’ve made progress again this weekend and whilst it might not show externally in the results, we can see that progress internally within the team. I’m certainly not getting the rub of the green with a few things but I accept that starting towards the back, I’m not always going to get through races scot-free, which can be frustrating when I need the track time.”
“Race three was tougher than expected. We had hoped to get the benefit of the softer tyre but instead, with the sun beating down, the track temperature climbed which meant we didn’t quite make the progress we had hoped to.”
“Performance-wise, I feel I’ve closed the gap to Jake again this weekend and now I’m hoping to get some solid running at the upcoming test to try a few things out that we can’t do on a race weekend. I have a better understanding of the technique required to drive these cars now and hopefully, that will pay off in the test so we can work to get the Audi better suited to me for the second half of the season.”
Mark will now head to Snetterton for two days of official testing on the 16th and 17th July, where he'll be looking to get plenty of laps and data underneath his belt before returning to the circuit for round six of the season, on the 3rd - 4th August.