Former F1 driver Mark Blundell is back–back racing in the Spa 24 hours later this month with United Autosports. Driving the #68 Audi R8 with team owner Zak Brown, Blundell makes his return the the notorious circuit. This week Blundell shares his thoughts on Spa and the prospect of driving for United Autosports.
â€œI made my Spa dÃ©but 23 years ago and so have some very good memories of the Belgian venue. It was there that I scored my first Formula 1 World Championship point in a Brabham and so thatâ€™s a good, positive memory. I have also raced there in Group C sportscars and Formula 3000. I actually nearly won on my Spa dÃ©but in 1987 in a Formula 3000 race.
â€œI had just taken the lead but unfortunately there was an accident at the top of Eau Rouge, organizers stopped the race and the race result was taken from the previous lap so I was classified second. It was a wet race, as is often the case at Spa. I think there is some ridiculous figure, like over 250 days a year, that it rains there so whenever you see sunshine at the Spa circuit, like we did for the Test Day earlier this month, it is a real bonus. Overall, good memories and always a pleasure to go back to Spa Francorchamps and drive round the track”.
Formula 1 fans will recall Blundell’s first championship point finishing sixth to Ayrton Senna’s victory at Spa in 1991:
â€œMy sixth place in the 1991 Belgian GP, a race won by Ayrton Senna in a McLaren, was a big deal. It was my first year in Formula 1 and I was driving a Yamaha-engined Brabham. So not only was it my first World Championship point it was also Yamahaâ€™s too. It earned me a Yamaha 1000cc motorbike as a gift they [Yamaha] gave me so overall, happy times”.
â€œThe Spa 24 Hours will mark my first race back there since 1995 when I was in a McLaren. Itâ€™s changed in a few places like at the â€˜bus stopâ€™ chicane and some new kerbs. I have been out of the driverâ€™s seat for several years now but I never said officially that I was retiring and it never came in to my mind to retire â€“ I have just been doing other things”.
We spoke with Zak Brown on the latest F1B Downshift episode and he was elated to have Blundell joining him at Spa and who can blame him? As one of Brown’s heroes, it must be an amazing journey to own a team and have your hero drive with you at Spa. The deal came together and the team look to capitalize on Blundell’s experience:
â€œThis opportunity came up and it is an attraction for me to drive a modern day GT sportscar and try to be competitive. Iâ€™m not looking to set the world alight but just come back and enjoy it and I think this opportunity with Zak [Brown] and United Autosports, in an Audi R8 LMS, the whole combination, just seems to be the right thing to do and to be racing at Spa, in a 24 hour race, just tops it all off.
â€œIâ€™ve tested the Audi at Silverstone (GB), Snetterton (GB) and at Spa last week â€“ it is a great car and is very â€˜user friendlyâ€™ â€“ a perfect â€˜customerâ€™ car to go off racing with. It is one of those cars that you can get in and wring its neck and is very rewarding. Having completed the Spa test, I feel there is definitely more potential in the R8 LMS to come, more development that can be applied, but in essence itâ€™s a great GT racing car and I think Audi has done a tremendous job.
â€œAs for the race itself, although Iâ€™ve not previously competed in it, there is no question that itâ€™s a serious event and needs serious commitment. All of us drivers need to make sure that we are on top of our game and I think our experience should pay off”.
So how is the veteran going to approach the race? It’s a 24 hour endurance race and I seem to recall F1B’s own Paul Charsley saying very much the same kinds of things about this type of race before. Blundell says:
â€œTwenty-four hour racing is different to shorter, sprint races. You are sharing the car with others and you need the mentality of bringing it back in one piece, making sure that you can relay information back as and when because it could be information that can be used in several hours time. I think overall there is a lot of experience at United Autosports, a couple of us in the team know how to win a 24 hour race and probably thatâ€™s in an event even more grueling than this one but at the same time the sheer fact that it is Spa and its 24 hours of racing will drive all of us on.â€
I have fond memories of Mark in 1997 during the CART series here in America and then the victory at Le Mans as well as his two podiums with Ligier and his time at McLaren. A terrific guy and it’s fabulous to see him back in sports car racing if I’m honest. He picked a terrific crew to race with so be sure to catch the race. Do you have a favorite Blunell moment? Share it with us. Racing or commentating, Mark has always represented motorsport well.