It was a weekend of progress for Mark Blundell as he continued his maiden British Touring Car Championship campaign with his competitive debut at Knockhill. Three full-race distances were highlighted with a top-twenty finish, as the 53-year-old displayed continued signs of progress across the weekend.
Making his way north of the border to the Fife-based track, Blundell headed into the weekend with only a single day of experience around the 1.2 mile circuit so set out to make the most of Saturday morning’s two practice sessions. The day started in a positive tone as the former Formula One driver clocked a 51.375 to place him in P20 at the end of free practice one. The second session of the morning saw progress a little harder to come by but Blundell headed into qualifying encouraged by the morning’s display.
Unfortunately, this encouragement was short lived. Heading into qualifying with a new setup that demonstrated some strides of improvements in the session’s early running, the HP-sponsored driver’s session was to come to an early conclusion. After posting his quickest first sector of the day so far, the 53-year-old continued to push hard through the middle phase only to exit the track. Despite getting himself out of the gravel fairly quickly, a red flag was waved resulting in a disqualification from the rest of the session.
Forced to start race day from the back of the grid, Blundell and his team opted for the soft tyre in race one as they attempted to recoup some of the lost ground in qualifying. Making up two places on the first lap, the Trade Price Cars Racing Audi S3 was demonstrating some positive signs on track. Reacting quickly on the second lap to avoid being collected in an incident in front, Blundell continued to pass those in front and gain further positions due to incidents further up the grid. Despite losing life in his tyres as the race progressed, Blundell fought hard to bring home the car in P20 - his fifth top-twenty finish of the year.
Opting to take the optional medium tyre in race two, Blundell knew that it would likely prove to be his toughest race of the weekend and so it proved. With a couple of the championship’s frontrunners forced to start race two from the back of the grid, the 53-year-old chose his battles wisely through the early stages of the race. As the laps counted down, Blundell became locked in an intriguing battle between himself, Daniel Rowbottom and Michael Crees through the final stages of the race. Despite eventually succumbing to Rowbottom, the #8 HP car came home in P24.
Looking to end his weekend on a positive note, Blundell got a great start off the line in race three making up two positions by the first corner. Showing better pace through the third sector, Blundell continued to pick up positions as others ran into trouble further up the pack. Running in P20 right until the very final stages, the Trade Price Cars Racing driver look set to collect his second top-twenty finish of the weekend. With his counterpart getting a great run off the final corner, Blundell and Bobby Thompson enjoyed a drag race down the home straight with the Team HARD driver ultimately winning out.
Ending the final race in P21, Blundell reflected on a positive weekend at a new circuit while hoping that this pointed to more progressive weekends laying ahead in the final two rounds of the season.
“For my first time here, I’ve got to be fairly happy with that. First things first, this is a great track and it was great to be involved in some proper battles out there today and I’m leaving here with more of a smile on my face than I have in recent weeks! I made some changes to my general technique this week and I feel like that has been a step forward for us. Training myself out of thirty years worth of habits is not an easy thing to do but we are getting there slowly.”
“We’ve shown a bit more today about what we can achieve. We’ve moved forward and that is what we have to keep doing, if we can continue this we won’t be too far outside of those points positions and that has to be what we are trying to achieve again before the end of the season!”
“I have to leave the last word though for Jake - if ever one of the younger guys on the grid deserved some success, it is him. I am over the moon for him and it’s great to see him up there with the big guys which is no doubt where he will continue to be.”
Focus now turns to the two showpiece events of the season, with the championship rolling into Silverstone in a fortnight’s time (28-29 September) before the curtain falls on the 2019 campaign at Brands Hatch on October the 13th.
Photo credit: Jakob Ebrey Photography