Bell is famed for winning Le Mans five times, but who recalls now that only one driver stayed on Porsche’s books for the duration of its Group C campaign which lasted seven seasons from 1982. He was also a works Ferrari racing driver and if you believe a man can be judged by the quality of the company he keeps, his team-mates included not just Ickx and Bellof, but Ronnie Peterson, Jo Siffert, Hans Stuck, Mike Hailwood, James Hunt, Henri Pescarolo, Bob Wollek… the list is long and doesn’t end there. And on the Saturday night of the members meeting I got to talk with him again.
This time the subject was sobering: Derek raced single seaters and sports cars through just about the most dangerous era of all, when they had all the power and performance, but none of the structural strength we take for granted today. And he raced them at tracks with safety standards and medical facilities that today would be considered a joke at the lowliest club meeting. He was in the F2 race at Hockenheim in which Jim Clark died. In 1971 alone Porsche team-mates Pedro Rodriguez and Jo Siffert would both be killed, along with Ignazio Giunti at the Buenos Aires 1,000km, a race that Bell won. ‘I was lucky,’ he says, ‘I never saw a driver die. I don’t know how or why but while I was at many races where someone got killed, I was always back in the pits having retired or waiting my turn to drive.’ Among people who raced as much as he did in that era, that must make him exceptionally fortunate.