Bell back in a Porsche 962


It’s not often people ask you to photograph their lunch and, in the less-than-glitzy surroundings of the Donington Park canteen, it might be a first. Nevertheless five-time Le Mans winner Derek Bell was insisting: “you’ve got to get a photograph of this”.

As it turns out ‘this’ was table full of chips, beans, ketchup and bottles of Coca-Cola, a lunchtime combo so many worlds away from normality for the Florida-dwelling former works Ferrari Formula 1 driver (not to mention the only driver to stay within the Porsche factory family for the duration of its involvement as a works team during the 1980s), he clearly wants the evidence.

Derek Bell’s Le Mans wins

Car: Mirage GR7
Team: Gulf Racing Research
Team-mate: Jacky Ickx
Laps: 336

Car: Porsche 936
Team: Porsche System
Team-mate: Jacky Ickx
Laps: 354

Car: Porsche 956
Team: Rothmans Porsche AG
Team-mate: Jacky Ickx
Laps: 359

Car: Porsche 962C
Team: Rothmans Porsche AG
Team-mates: Holbert/Stuck
Laps: 368

Car: Porsche 962C
Team: Rothmans Porsche AG
Team-mates: Holbert/Stuck
Laps: 355

Yet out of the ordinary though this may be for DB, he is clearly having a great time. This in itself is a fairly remarkable thing. He’s just off the plane from the US and Donington has temporarily transformed itself into a water park meaning the work he came to do – find a comfortable set up for the Porsche 962C he’s going to drive in the Le Mans support race the weekend after next – is not going to happen.

But I know why that famously craggy face can’t stop grinning because I was in the garage earlier when he’d come in after ten soaking laps in Mark Sumpter’s Porsche. I’d watched him circulate a track he’d not driven at for 23 years, dodging and weaving his way through the clouds of Clios and junior Formula cars learning little at this soaking test day. I could see the triple storey rooster tails of spray pluming out of the back of the Porsche and hear the confidence with which he applied the power. Despite the weather and the stark contrast to the places he’d been, and the things he’d done, in 962s in the past, you didn’t need to look into his helmet to know he was enjoying this.

One reason was Sumpter’s car. It is the ultimate 962, at least in terms of factory-built cars designed to go Group C racing. Built as a spare chassis for testing at Weissach, it was sold to Joest Racing in 1989 and raced successfully, most notably winning at Dijon with Frank Jelinski and Bob Wollek. It would transpire to be the 962’s last ever Group C win, ending an era of excellence that had started with the 956 back in 1982. So it is a fantastically important car and perfectly prepared.

When Derek finally peeled into the pitlane and leapt out the car with an ease not normally associated with septuagenarians, at first all there was were expletives. Then, once the helmet was off I saw the smile and heard the only complaint being that they couldn’t race it right here, right now. Really rather wonderfully, this stuff still matters to Derek Bell.

But he’ll have to wait another few days before he is back once more at his beloved Le Mans. How well will they do? Derek’s reputation speaks for itself and Mark is a world-class driver who won most races he entered when racing this 962 in historics in 2007. But the car is a downforce monster that despite its 750bhp gets to 189mph and stops dead while other Group C cars in the same race will approach 220mph, even today. Then again, if the weather is at all marginal that downforce will put them in a very good position indeed. I did a few laps myself and was staggered by how much confidence it provided in such terrible conditions.

Either way, it might be DB’s last run at Le Mans. I sense he is looking for a happy ending to a story 44 years in the telling and I think he has the car to provide it. I hope you, like me, will be there to cheer him on.


You may also like