Spanning over 40 years, Derek Bell MBE has enjoyed one of the most successful, diverse and wide-ranging careers of any British racing driver. He is best-known as the consummate endurance sports car driver who won the Le Mans 24 Hours five times, the Daytona 24 Hours three times and the World Sports Car Champion twice. He is considered as the greatest Englishman ever to compete in endurance racing.
Derek’s sports car career spans the Ferrari 512 and Porsche 917, the Gulf-Mirage era, Renault’s turbo effort at Le Mans, the Porsche 936, Porsche 956 and 962, the Kremer Porsche K8, the Ferrari 333 SP, and the McLaren F1, which earned him yet another Le Mans podium, with his son Justin, in 1995. The latter was one of the proudest moments of his career, on a par with any of his five outright victories at the famous 24 hour race.
Derek is still an ambassador for Porsche today and represents the company at many historic motor racing events. Furthermore, Bell regularly takes part in events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed, driving the same cars he used as one of the most versatile and popular racers of his generation when actively competing. With this year’s show marque being Porsche, the organisers of Classic & Supercars are delighted that Derek will be attending the show and meeting visitors and fans alike.
He started out as a marshal at Goodwood, a few corners down from where the career of the great Sir Stirling Moss OBE came to a premature end in 1962. He began racing as an amateur in a Lotus 7 at Goodwood, winning his first ever race in March 1964, in the wet. He quickly progressed to Formula 3 and then Formula 2 with the backing of his step-father’s Church Farm Racing team, turning professional within three years when Enzo Ferrari offered him a Formula 2 drive in the Monza Lotteria. Between 1968 and 1974 he competed in 16 Formula 1 Grand Prix, racing for Ferrari, McLaren, Surtees and Tecno, with a single World Championship point to his credit, driving a Surtees to sixth place at the US Grand Prix, Watkins Glen, in 1970.
Derek’s real talent lay with endurance racing, where he has become a legend. He won back to back World Sports Car Championship titles in 1985 and 1986, three 24 Hours of Daytona in 1986, 1987 and 1989 and five Le Mans victories in 1975, 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1987. Derek’s consistent team mate during this period was Jacky Ickx, racing several Porsche types together, including the Porsche 936, the Porsche 956 and the Porsche 962. The Bell/Ickx is partnership is considered as one of the most famous driver pairings in motorsport history.
He was at his prime during the 1980’s and early 1990’s, becoming the most successful driver of all-time during the reign of the Porsche 956 and Porsche 962, achieving no fewer than 16 outright victories in the World Endurance Championship and 19 in the IMSA Camel GT Championship, a total of 35 wins in seven years.
In 1970 Derek filmed the cult movie ‘Le Mans’ with Hollywood legend Steve McQueen, the two became firm friends. During the course of filming Derek showed that motorsport, even for the silver screen, can be a dangerous business, suffering burns to his face when the Ferrari 512 he was driving caught fire following a racing sequence on the Le Mans circuit.