Torvill and Dean, Pinsent and Redgrave, Ickx and Bell… some partnerships in sport just work
Writer Peter Higham
It is 40 years since this most famous of driver combinations joined forces at Le Mans for the first time. Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell teamed up for the endurance classic on four occasions – scoring three victories and being only narrowly beaten on the other occasion.
The winner in 1969, Ickx was experiencing a difficult time in Formula 1 when he shared the number 11 Gulf Mirage GR8-Ford with Bell in 1975. He qualified on pole and they ran in the top two throughout, winning by a lap to hand John Wyer his fourth and final Le Mans victory as a team manager.
Ickx joined Porsche in 1976 and won that year and the next – becoming the fourth driver to that date to win three successive Le Mans 24 Hours. Thoughts of retirement were put aside as Ickx combined with Bell for a second time in 1981 – their Porsche 936/81 running faultlessly despite a lack of pre-race testing to win by 14 laps.
The Porsche 956 was introduced in 1982 and Bell/Ickx led a 1-2-3 for the Rothmans-backed works team. They suffered a litany of problems during the 1983 race but still came within a lap of winning for the third year in a row – Bell bringing their brakeless 956 home in second position behind the sister Schuppan/Holbert/Haywood machine.
A six-time winner at Le Mans, Ickx scored back-to-back successes in the World Sports Car Championship in 1982 and 1983 and Bell (eventually a five-time winner at the Circuit de la Sarthe) took the title twice later in the decade.