Le Mans legend Mass remembers Stefan Bellof: 'He was a lovely kid – but reckless'

Sports Car News

Jochen Mass drove the late Stefan Bellof's record-breaking Porsche 956 at Goodwood – and it brought back many memories flooding back to the Le Mans winner

Stefan Bellof Silverstone

Stefan Bellof celebrates at Silverstone, where he announced himself on his sports car debut


Some motor sport heroes are remembered for the sheer volume of their success, epic scoring streaks which etch their name into legend.

Others burn bright but briefly, their intensity living long in the memory after they’re gone.

Stefan Bellof might just be the ultimate in the latter category. The young German has gone down as perhaps the greatest ‘What if?’ in motor sport, someone who achieved in racing but could have done so much more.

Jochen Mass, once Bellof’s team-mate in the Porsche works sports car team, had an emotional weekend at the recent Goodwood Members’ Meeting whilst taking part in a Porsche 956/962 demonstration, celebrating 40 years since the advent of Group C and the marque’s first Le Mans win in the category.

Mass was driving the very 956 (chassis no7) in which the young Bellof smashed the Nürburgring lap record in 1983 – then duly crashed after going airborne two laps later.

Porsche 956/962s at Goodwood 2022

Mass (in second car) part of the Porsche 956/962 celebration at the 2022 Goodwood Members’ Meeting


Recalling his former colleague to Motor Sport 36 years after his tragic passing, Mass emphasises the person as much as the racer: “He was a lovely kid – and very quick.”

Bellof, a playful, charismatic youngster with an easy-going nature, made his name in F1 circles by famously finishing third, just behind Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, at the torrential ’84 Monaco GP in the neat yet woefully underpowered Tyrrell 012.

From the archive

However, Mass was familiar with the Bellof family long before Stefan’s motor sport exploits.

“Stefan was the son of another German racer [Georg] who I raced against already on the European hill climb circuit and things like that,” he says.

“I liked Georg – he was a bit older than me. So when the son came and drove for Porsche, it was with good reason because he was quick and was the upcoming new talent.”

After success in the junior formula, Bellof blew onto the world sportscar scene like a hurricane, winning three races during his debut season as Porsche works team-mate to Derek Bell, setting some stunning lap records in the process.

He set pole by almost 2sec on his victorious debut at Silverstone, and then posted that famous Nürburgring time during the race, chopping 4sec off the lap record with a 6min 11.130sec – still the official lap record!

Stefan Bellof, Detroit Grand Prix, Detroit street circuit, Detroit, Michigan, June 24, 1984. (Photo by Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images)

Bellof – ever the joker

Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

“The possibility of what could be done with a 956 only became clear when Stefan got into one,” his former FFord team boss Walter Lechner told Mark Hughes in 2000.

“It was like climbing a mountain making it go really quick, because its ground effect meant unless you really pushed the car it just understeered. Logic would say you needed to lift off but if you stayed hard on the throttle it would stick to the track. He realised this immediately and the established guys — Ickx, Mass, Stuck, Wollek — were left behind.”

Mass himself witnessed Bellof’s oneness with the 956 first hand when the pair were in an easy lead at Le Mans ’83 until a car failure put them out, before Bellof became World Sports Car champion in 1984.

By this point, Porsche’s star had competed in 16 top level endurance races – and won nine of them.

However, Mass says that the young German’s derring-do and audacious overtaking moves were a bit much to stomach for the many in the endurance field. There was an uneasy feeling amongst some drivers.

“Stefan was one of these reckless characters who didn’t respect enough the inherent dangers in racing,” signs Mass. “It always irked me that the young guys needed ‘more’.

“He took risks which were totally unnecessary – and that was what killed him.”

Bellof had scaled back his sports car commitments so to focus on his F1 career with Tyrrell in ’85, but found himself in Belgium that year at a fateful Spa 1000km for the privateer Brun Motorsport squad.

Jochen Mass. (Photo by: GP Library/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Mass says drivers were concerned by the Bellof’s risky approach

GP Library/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

After pressuring Jacky Ickx for several laps, Bellof effected a typically audacious move on the outside at Eau Rouge into Raidillon – but the two 956s touched and went off.

It was the end of both drivers’ races, and tragically for Bellof it was the end of the road. His Porsche had hit the barriers dead on and gone through to another retaining wall.

Suffering from massive internal injuries, there was no way the German could survive, depriving an all-time great talent of a long and rich career, along with fans who craved the kind of thrilling drives he delivered every time.

For Mass, who knew father and then son, it’s still an emotional topic now.

“It was a really great shame for me, because he was a lovely kid.”