WRC

Rally of Great Britain: Mark Blundell preview

Can Blundell rally to the Network Q challenge? 7th November 2002.../Mark Blundell, former F1 driver, heads to Wales next week for his first major rally challenge, competing in the Network Q Rally of Great Britain, the final round of the World ...

Can Blundell rally to the Network Q challenge?

7th November 2002.../Mark Blundell, former F1 driver, heads to Wales next week for his first major rally challenge, competing in the Network Q Rally of Great Britain, the final round of the World Rally Championship. Driving the MG ZR Super 1600 for MG Sport & Racing, Blundell and co-driver, Bob McKenzie, a motorsport journalist, will be put to the test in the Welsh forests.

Blundell has prepared for the Network Q with an intensive course in the art of rally driving at the Higgins' Forest Experience Rally School, combined with participation in two recent domestic rallies, with McKenzie alongside. The 'practice' events weren't without drama for the intrepid duo as rookie rally driver, Blundell, tested their tenacity by putting the ZR on its side during the Bulldog Rally and dropping it into a ditch in the Tempest Stages. Managing to extricate themselves from both situations with only muddy boots, dented pride and sore ribs -from laughing so much, the serious business of this major event is now being relished by Billy/Bob, as they have been affectionately called (Billy is Mark's nickname from his F1 driving days).

Blundell looks forward to next week's new experience saying, "It's been a crash course in rally driving for me over the last few weeks, in more ways than one, but I'm hoping I've made all my rookie errors now and can keep the car on the road for this, the real challenge. The MG ZR Super 1600 is a great car and there's no reason why we're not turning in competitive stage times (apart from my lack of experience, of course!).

"I don't underestimate the difficulty of the Network Q and from my, very limited, competition experience, I already have tremendous respect for the World Rally boys, as this driving is so 'on the edge'. Rallying can make F1 look very tame - when you're going 85 mph and faced with a 180 degree hairpin, a 1 in 4 gradient and a near vertical drop on one side, it's hairy stuff!"

"The last ex-F1 driver to finish the rally was Tiff Needall in 1996 and before that, it was Derek Bell in 1988. My good mate, Martin Brundle, competed in 1996 but he didn't make it to the end, so I definitely want to try and get one up on him. We need to keep out of trouble and with a bit of luck, we hope we'll see the finish on Sunday."

McKenzie, has sat alongside Blundell for his fast-track introduction to rallying, although the brave co-driver has taken part in a number of rallies over the last four years. He is enjoying teaming up with Blundell and comments, " I took this on thinking that Mark had a lot more rally experience than he has and that he might acquire more by the time he and I entered the Network Q. Our learning curve has made the final climb to the Everest summit seem like a gentle stroll. There is no doubt that he is a quick driver - I have seen that for myself from outside the car in formula 1, CART and Le Mans where he has never failed to impress."

"It never crossed my mind that one day I would be sitting in the car alongside him, hurtling through walls of trees, with thought-provoking steep drops below at some points. It's a fantastic thrill and we are definitely at the fun-end of the rally, though fuelled with hope and optimism. The MG ZR Super 1600 flies, Blundell has a hot right foot and I've got a good insurance policy. If he can continue to learn to listen to somebody - me - shouting what is round the next corner, we could survive to Cardiff on the Sunday. If not....they tell me hospital food is a lot better these days and it will make a good piece for the Express."

Blundell and McKenzie travel to Wales on Sunday ahead of a shakedown with the MG ZR Super 1600, two days of recce work for the Network Q and the event itself which starts on Thursday 14th November with the Cardiff Super Special Stages.

-ah-

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Series WRC
Drivers Mark Blundell , Martin Brundle , Derek Bell