Sports cars – Derek Bell

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Emotions were running high. Even Derek Bell, genuine ‘national treasure’ and a man well used to being lauded for his achievements, choked for a moment as a he reflected on his favourite Le Mans memory. The recognition of an enrolment into our Hall of Fame is of growing significance with each passing year, it seems, perhaps more so now that readers choose who is honoured.

“It’s far greater than I thought,” said Derek, with a characteristic twinkle in his eye. “I remember going to a small event in the centre of London about five years ago, but I come along here to the Royal Automobile Club and it’s like one of the greatest motor sports reunions you’ll ever see. To see everybody here is just magnificent. 

Motor Sport magazine was the first one I ever looked at, probably because it was the only one around in 1949! It’s just special and they’re still here today. It’s much more interesting than the weeklies, they have great journalists and they really bother to delve into our history. To be a part of that is pretty special.”

And that outstanding memory? It has nothing to do with any of his five Le Mans wins. “I raced for quite a long time, from 1964 in a Lotus 7 to the early 2000s,” said Derek. “But the one thing that will always stick in my mind was Le Mans 1995, driving with my son Justin [in the Harrods McLaren F1]. To finish third on Father’s Day and stand on that rostrum with my son – and thank goodness for our team-mate Andy Wallace – that was very special.”

Fellow Le Mans legend and friend Tom Kristensen was on hand to announce Bell’s entry into the Hall of Fame, a club he joined himself in 2013. For all his many accolades, Tom has a particular affinity for our award. “When I told him, my dad looked me in the eye and said ‘You deserve it, well done’,” said Tom. “He actually passed away less than a month after that. It couldn’t have been better timed to join the Hall of Fame and for me to have that moment.”

Bell and Kristensen formed something of a double act as Tom paid tribute to a man he got to know better during his 2003 Le Mans campaign with Bentley, for whom Derek is an ambassador. “He was a hero of mine when I was wearing shorts. Now I wear shorts again to pretend I’m younger!” said the nine-time Le Mans victor. “But looking at the pictures I can’t see any difference in Derek’s face. Living in Florida for half the year must help, I’m sure…” Damien Smith

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