FEB 22nd 2016

74MM Who's Who... Derek Bell

Le Mans, France. 31st May - 1st June 1986. Hans-Joachim Stuck /Derek Bell /Al Holbert (Porsche 962C), 1st position, action. World Copyright: LAT Photographic Ref: 86LM11.

Derek Bell is one of Britain’s most successful racers, a team player and a charmer. Having been brought up down the road from Goodwood, it was fitting that he took his first win here, in a handicap race in a Lotus 7.

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That was in 1964 and Derek would spend the next three years chasing single-seater glory in F3, also winning at Goodwood, which is why this race is named after him. Derek was then fielded in F2 by his stepfather’s Church Farm Racing outfit in 1968.

Strong results led to a surprise call to Italy to meet none other than Enzo Ferrari. With an F2 contract in his pocket, Derek was also entered by Ferrari in two end-of-season grands prix. But, after industrial strikes that were raging through Italy scuppered Ferrari in 1969, Derek’s F1 career never really took off, with bit-part drives for Surtees and Tecno.

1995 Le Mans 24 Hours. Le Mans, France. 17th - 18th June 1995. Andy Wallace/Derek Bell/Justin Bell (McLaren F1 GTR), 3rd position, leads J.J. Lehto/Yannick Dalmas/Masanori Sekiya (McLaren F1 GTR), 1st position and Gary Ayles / Massimo Monti / Fabio Mancini (Ferrari F40 GTE), 18th position, action.  World Copyright: LAT Photographic.

Instead, and he’ll be thanking his lucky stars for this, he turned to sportscar racing to earn his crust, after a one-off invitation to race an Ecurie Francorchamps Ferrari 512S at Spa. And so began one of the sport’s epic careers, with his move to Porsche in 1971 being a launchpad towards five Le Mans wins – the first in 1975, the last in 1987, three of them with Jacky Ickx the other two with Hans Stuck and Al Holbert – and three victories in the Daytona 24 Hours as well as becoming World Sports Car Champion in both 1985 and 1986.

Amazingly, ever spry Derek nearly took a sixth Le Mans win in 1995, at the age of 53. Leading with two-and-a-half hours to go, in a McLaren F1 GTR shared with son Justin and Andy Wallace, they were denied by gear selection problems and dropped to finish third.

The Derek Bell Cup is a race for one-litre ‘screamer’ Formula 3 cars of a type that raced from 1964-70.

Images courtesy of LAT

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