Mark Blundell looked to be getting stronger and stronger as the 24 Hours of Spa progressed. By 8 a.m., the British F1, Indy car and sports car veteran had carried the United Autosports No. 68 up to seventh overall and third in the GT3 class – doing so with a lap that was was five seconds quicker that lap than the No. 53 Porsche that he passed for that position.
Meanwhile, the team's sister No. 67 was effecting a comeback charge after being delayed by several off-course excursions during the night, including a trip into the gravel by Emil Assentato that required a safety car, and a minor collision with a Ferrari by Mark Patterson that necessitated an 11-minute pit stop to repair bodywork damage, In addition, Stefan Johansson had to bring the car in for another unscheduled stop due to a tire puncture. Even so, by 9.30 a.m., a charging Patterson had carried car back up to 12th overall and fifth in GT3.
For Blundell, who has been concentrating on his driver management business (which represents IndyCar driver Mike Conway among other clients) in recent years the Spa event is an opportunity both to get back in the arena and to revisit some of his favorite racing memories.
"This is my first race here since 1995 when I was in a McLaren," he said. "It's changed in a few places, like at the bus stop chicane and some new curbs. I have been out of the driver'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 – I have just been doing other things.
"This opportunity came up and it is an attraction for me to drive a modern-day GT sports car and try to be competitive. I'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."
Blundell says the Audi is the perfect platform for his comeback.
"It is a great car and is very 'user friendly' – a perfect customer car to go off racing with," he says. "It is one of those cars that you can get in and wring its neck and is very rewarding. I feel there is definitely more potential in the R8 LMS to come, more development that can be applied, but in essence it's a great GT racing car and I think Audi has done a tremendous job.
"As for the race itself, 24-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 that's in an event even more grueling than this one, but at the same time the sheer fact that it is Spa and it's 24 hours of racing will drive all of us on."