Driving standards

Why Derek Bell withdrew from the Le Mans Classic

The driving standards debate rears its divisive head in almost every tier of motor racing, from junior single-seaters to Formula 1, but in the world of historic racing it surfaced most recently when Derek Bell pulled out of this year’s Le Mans Classic.

Erring on the side of caution, five-time 24 Hours winner Bell pulled out of driving a Porsche 917. “The big concern to me is the fact that there are a lot of inexperienced drivers out there,” said Bell during the Le Mans Legends lunch at the Motor Sport Hall of Fame.

“Thank goodness a lot of wealthy gentlemen and ladies have the chance to buy a piece of art and display it. It’s wonderful… but it concerns me that guys with little experience get in aged 45 or 50, and you occasionally get somebody who looks at you and says ‘I don’t know why I’m here… I’m out of my depth’.”

While famous names such as Jenson Button, René Arnoux and Jochen Mass are on the entry list, not everyone on the grid will have such skill or experience and, understandably, some of the more accomplished drivers will share Bell’s concerns.

Bell lived through an era in which friends and team-mates suffered dreadful accidents: Jo Siffert died in the 1971 Victory Race at Brands Hatch and Rolf Stommelen was killed at Riverside in 1983.

The 76-year-old is wary of the potential for accidents and – given the performance of cars such as the 917 – who can blame him?

But to raise the minimum entry criteria for the Classic would risk reducing the grids of majestic cars that have played such a significant part in the 24 Hours’ history – and the event needs to be much more than a demonstration.

It’s a delicate balance.