Mark Blundell enjoyed a successful British Touring Car Championship debut charging through from P28 to a P14 finish in race one to score points in his very first BTCC outing. The former Formula One star then completed two further full race distances in races two and three to cap a hugely positive opening weekend.
The 53-year-old’s return to competitive action had been one of the most talked about stories of the off-season and this weekend attention turned to on how the series’ oldest rookie ever would fare with the unique challenges of the BTCC. Running with the Trade Price Cars racing team, Blundell took to the track behind the wheel of the HP Audi S3 saloon at the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit looking to get his campaign underway with a positive start.
Mark’s weekend began with qualifying in damp and wet conditions at the Kent-based track, making for difficult conditions for all drivers. With his lap time decreasing and his confidence building, Mark looked set for a positive first qualifying session until he left the track at Druids. This subsequently ended Mark’s qualifying session early, and meant that Blundell’s previous lap time of 55.824 seconds was registered and that he would start the first race in P28.
Starting the first race from towards the back of the grid, Mark faced an uphill battle as he prepared for his first Touring Car battle. With rain threatening to fall, Mark and his team took a calculated gamble on their tyre choice which turned out to be an excellent call. With the track steadily drying, Mark delivered an overtaking masterclass as he climbed through the field to run as high as twelfth. With rain beginning to fall during the final few laps, the #8 car naturally struggled for grip meaning Blundell had to eventually settle for 14th place. In doing so, Blundell had secured a point scoring finish on his BTCC debut and his first competitive motor racing outing in over six years.
The second race saw Mark run with the soft tyre compound, which every driver has to run for at least one the races across the weekend. Fighting far from ideal conditions and with tyre management playing a hugely important role in the race, Mark eventually had to settle for a P28 finish but importantly had secured another full race distance and further valuable experience and data in the bank.
The final race of the day followed a similar path to the first. Again having to start from towards the back of the grid, Blundell expertly battled through the field from P28 to P19, to secure his second top-twenty result of the weekend. Finding himself with clear air in front of him for the latter half of the race, the 1992 Le Mans winner consistently delivered strong lap times as his progression continued throughout the weekend.
Reflecting on a positive first weekend in BTCC, Blundell commented:
“This weekend has been one of the biggest challenges of my career in terms of the learning curve I’ve faced; it’s been incredibly steep. I’ve had to learn about the car, the racing environment and the challenges of managing a soft tyre that certainly wasn’t the optimal one for the conditions.”
“Overall, there is a huge amount that I can take away from Brands Hatch and the team has done a great job and I’m pleased to have been able to score some points first time out in the car.”
“To get three finishes and come back with a car that is in one piece is a plus point for me. My lap times have been competitive which is good, as I know that I still need to find some raw pace. When I do that, I feel I’ll be in a good place. I have to analyse and reflect on everything that I have learned this weekend and then take that into Donington Park next time out.”
The BTCC paddock will travel to Donington Park for the next round of the championship which takes place over the 27th and 28th of April.