Conversation with Derek Bell at JD Classics

Derek Bell at JD Classics Breakfast
Derek Bell at JD Classics Breakfast

JD Classics welcomed more than 500 guests to another of its breakfast mornings on 23rd October, headlined by an insightful talk by British motorsport endurance racer, Derek Bell MBE.

Entry tickets were awarded to JD Classics’ customers and ballot winners, with those interested able to apply for tickets from July onwards. With enough interest to fill the available spaces many times over, it was only the lucky few that were able to visit JD Classics’ Maldon Headquarters; home to workshops and showrooms packed full of classic cars.

The focal point of the event was a talk from Derek Bell MBE, the man introduced by compere Simon Taylor as ‘the greatest British endurance racer of all time’. With five wins at the Le Mans 24 Hours, three at the 24 Hours of Daytona and a victory at the 1000km of Nurburging, it’s a title that’s hard to dispute.

Asked by Simon Taylor what it was that makes a good endurance racer, Bell replied: “You have to have good hands; you need quite a gentle touch on the wheel so you can actually feel what the car is doing, and you can’t do that if you’re gripping the steering wheel like it’s your last drive.”

As if to exemplify just how great his car control was, Bell went on to explain that he’d never lost a position in a long distance race that he didn’t get back through his own efforts, and he never had a crash that was his fault. Although there were plenty as a result of mechanical failures, including one notable crash at Daytona.

“I came up onto the banking and the right rear tyre burst, the air got under the front of the car and it went up in the air at 195mph and I could see the stars — it was uncanny — before it landed upside down and just kept sliding and sliding. When it stopped I could smell fuel and hear fluids leaking so I set off the fire extinguisher, without realizing it was Halon gas, which of course takes the oxygen out of the air, so I passed out!”

Part of many driver teams throughout his career, Bell spoke fondly of perhaps his most famous driving partner, Jacky Ickx. “We always got on extremely well, and he’s a bloody star. He’s very quiet but respected by absolutely everyone.”

Speaking about another of his driving partners, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Bell said: “He’s completely different [to Ickx]! He was bloody quick, but he used to crash a lot and he was never sure why! Years later, he said, ‘Do you know why I was with you racing? Because they [the team leaders] thought you might calm me down and turn me into a proper racing driver.’”

Away from his racing career, Derek Bell also helped in the filming and development of the Steve McQueen film, Le Mans. “We came round a corner — Jo [Siffert] in a Porsche 917 and me in a Ferrari 512 — both going absolutely flat out, and there was this cameraman right in the middle of the road! Jo parked up and said to McQueen, ‘someone is going to get killed … who was that in the middle of the road? To which McQueen replied, ‘It was me!’”

But in a career full of highlights, Bell picked out a 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours race with his son Justin in a Harrods-sponsored McLaren F1 GTR for special mention. “We were actually leading the race for 12 hours, in what was essentially a road car, and despite it being the wettest Le Mans 24 Hours ever. But right near the end we actually had trouble getting the car into gear so we finished third. Still it’s very special being up on the podium with your son, especially on Father’s Day.”

More dates and details of JD Classics breakfast mornings, including the guest speakers, will be announced in the New Year.

[Source: JD Classics]