With a plethora of magazines stacked precariously high on my desk – all waiting to be given a quick thumb through at some point – it’s only now that I have been able to give any time to reading this month’s Motor Sport Magazine.
That’s not to suggest that the aforementioned publication is any less deserving of my time than other magazines, quite the opposite in fact. Its contents are typically less time-sensitive than its rivals, plus the quality of the material contained within are something to savour each and every issue.
High on the list of must-read articles every month are Nigel Roebuck’s ‘Reflections’ column and the often lengthy, but ultimately fascinating, ‘Lunch with…’ section by Simon Taylor, who interviews various motor racing luminaries while tucking into a nice meal.
The latest candidate to receive the ‘Lunch with…’ treatment is Mark Blundell who, you may think, would make for a dull interviewee, but if anything, his story of how he went from living in caravan to racing for McLaren – and everything in-between – certainly makes for a cracking read.
Within this piece, Blundell mentioned something that I had only ever read about before, but had never actually seen: his infamous balls-out qualifying lap behind the wheel of the Nissan R90CK at the 1990 Le Mans 24 Hours.
At the time, Blundell – along with the likes of Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger – was an up-and-coming racer who had ambitions of carving out a successful career in Formula 1.
With debts mounting and a testing role for Williams proving fruitless, Blundell took up an offer from Nissan in 1989 to drive alongside Julian Bailey in the World Sportscar Championship. It paid well and a couple of podiums came their way at Spa and Donington behind the mighty Mercedes. At Le Mans, however, they had to pack up after just five laps when Bailey had an altercation with one of the Jaguars.
Blundell returned to La Sarthe for Nissan once again in 1990, and it was here that the 24-year-old caused quite a stir when it came to qualifying for the twice around the clock event.
“I was doing the race with Julian and Gianfranco Brancatelli,” he told Taylor in this month’s Motor Sport Magazine. “Julian and I tossed a coin to decide who would qualify and who would start the race. I won the toss, and I knew Nissan had done a monster qualifying engine, so I opted to qualify.”
Having encountered various issues along the way, the team were unsure as to whether a set of the more conventional softer tyres were durable enough for qualifying. And so, with little in the way of expectation, out came Blundell on the harder compound tyre that was typically reserved for longer race stints.
Legend has it that as he came round to finish his first flying lap, Blundell was told over the radio to abort and return to the pits as the team had concerns over the engine unit, more so the turbo overboosting that had been causing them problems all week.
But instead, Blundell chose to disobey team orders and went on to do this…
With more locks of the steering wheel than at a locksmith convention, and hanging by the skin of his teeth while doing over 230mph down the Mulsanne Straight, Blundell became the youngest polesitter in the history of Le Mans – a record he still holds to this day – with a time of 3min 27.02sec, six seconds faster than anyone else.
Mock him all you want for his lack of vocabulary and his cockney geezer accent, but there’s no getting away from the fact that he produced one of the all-time great laps in motor racing history, maybe even eclipsing Ayrton Senna’s infamous Monaco lap from 1988 in the jaw-dropping stakes…