It was at the Goodwood circuit in 1964 that a local amateur racer by the name of Derek Bell won his first race. He wouldn’t remain amateur for long; a short time racing single-seaters gave way to an illustrious career in sports cars. His five wins at the Le Mans 24-hour make him the most successful British Le Mans driver, and to that you can add three Daytona 24-hour victories and two World Sportscar Championship titles. And, despite all that success, he has remained one of the most-liked professional racing drivers.
In his early career, Bell was supported by his step-father’s Church Farm Racing Team. He progressed through Formula Three and Formula Two, and was offered a pro F2 drive by Enzo Ferrari within three years. He worked his way up to Formula One and competed in 16 grands prix between 1968 and ’71.
It was sports car racing that would really make Bell’s name. Aside from 1984, he competed at Le Mans every year from 1970 to 1996. One of his proudest career moments was standing on the podium of the 1995 event with his son Justin; they had co-driven a McLaren F1 GTR to third place.
Even after his competition days at Le Mans came to an end, he still had influence over the sharp end of the grid. In 2001, he was enlisted as a consultant on the Bentley Speed 8 that went on to win the 2003 event.
Fifty years after that first victory here at Goodwood, Bell still drives professionally. At this week’s Le Mans, he will be competing in a 10-lap/45-minute historic support race in his Group C Porsche 962. Later this month, he’ll be at the Festival of Speed taking to the hill on the Supercar Run in a Bentley. He is also being honoured by the AA, who will be presenting him with an award to mark his 50 years in motorsport on their stand at 2pm on 26 June.
After all these years he’s still a Goodwood local, dividing his time between homes in West Sussex and Florida.