Five-time Le Mans winner and 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Derek Bell joined Ed Foster and Gary Watkins to decide which 12 names from the world of sports cars should be on the Hall of Fame shortlist in 2017.
Before whittling down the names for consideration, Bell talks about his time sharing with Jacky Ickx, his time at Ferrari and answers your questions.
Voting for this year’s Hall of Fame has now closed. Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest updates.
Ed Foster: Hello everyone and welcome to our second Hall of Fame podcast of 2016 for the 2017 Hall of Fame. Today, as you already know we’re going to be focusing on sports cars and we have the 2016 winner and Hall of Fame inductee with us Derek Bell. Thank you so much for having us down to this lovely spot of England which seems to be the only sunny spot in England today.
Derek Bell: I’m glad you’re here. We have a little microclimate and it’s quite amazing when that guy arrived just now he said “you just have this climate right here” and drove back off up to Staines – he’s obviously used to coming into this microclimate in his truck!
EF: So our main task today is to come up with another set of 12 names for the public to vote on in the sports car category for next year’s Hall of Fame, so we will come onto that in a bit.
What I want to do is take some readers’ questions because ranging from how you get your hair to look so cool to more motorsport related topics. I will probably go with the latter today.
First of all who knew that not only were you racing driver but also a barista! We’ve all been having your delicious coffee this morning, so thank you.
I’m going to come straight in with a question talking about your old teammates…
DB: How much time have we got? There’s so many!
EF: Which one made the biggest impact on you during your career?
DB: It’s really difficult but I would have to say Jacky Ickx simply because he was really the first – I mean Jo Siffert was there in the beginning and Pedro but bless them they weren’t around long, but Jacky was part of my first Le Mans win and thereafter he was part of my second Le Mans win and my third Le Mans win, so therefore he did have an impact. He had a tremendous impact on my mentality about racing, I wasn’t a wild stupid guy, but I think having him around me… people respected him so much around the teams. Wherever we walked it was Jacky Ickx, Jacky Ickx and I knew with Jacky I was going to get a bloody good car and it seemed if I wasn’t with Jackie, and Gary might remember some of this, I sort of go “it aint gonna work because I’m not with Jacky,” and it often didn’t work, I didn’t do very well if I wasn’t with him. Now you’re going to say “he was so much better than you” but I think during or at the end of that period I became as good as him over an hour or even quickest lap time. I beat quite well over a few occasions over the years, so I think he brought me up to his level, at a mental level and a driving capability level, and also I daren’t crash it because he didn’t really crash. I went therefore went for most of my career without crashes as well, so he had a great impact on me I thought.
Gary Watkins: He has got an amazing aura about him. Did he have that the time?
DB: It was a totally different aura. I would have to say – I’m sure he’s not listening – but he had quite a selfish aura. He was introverted, he didn’t talk to many people unless he had to, didn’t suffer fools – well there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s a miracle he ever got on with me really! He came from I think a modestly wealthy family, lawyers, his father and his brother. If you’re doing trials and stuff when you’re 16 somebody paid for it, I didn’t sit in a car till I was 23, I think in his case somebody helped on the way. Don’t get me wrong it might have been him, but I don’t think he was earning money at 16 or whatever age it was and so consequently he came from a different background to me I think, though I’ve never really enquired about that. But when you start that young you know he to have had some help and he was very good, European champion in some trials and that sort of thing and of course immediately went to Ken Tyrrell. I mean fancy going straight to Ken Tyrrell, that’s not a bad thing to go where Jackie Stewart’s been, so he obviously was terribly talented. I wouldn’t say money helped at all then it was purely his talent, but he always had this air I would say perhaps a little bit superior, and I know lots of drivers: my dear old Mike Hailwood and various people didn’t like him, because they felt he was maybe a little arrogant. Jacky only did what was good for Jacky, and that’s why I liked being a team member of his because what was good to Jacky became good for Derek!
Consequently he just had this aura about him and then I met him at Ferrari, he was in Formula One when I joined Ferrari in ’68 and I was in Formula 2, and then my first Grand Prix was against him at Monza. Chris Amon was on the front row, Jacky on the second and me on the third row. I was really cheesed off because I wasn’t quicker, I mean I was on the third of a Grand Prix grid, I should have been quite happy really but I guess if you’re a young up and coming Grand Prix driver at 25 then perhaps I should have been the way I was but I was disappointed I wasn’t quicker, so therefore I was with Jackie quite early on and he had an impression on me, as did Chris of course.
EF: If you had to step out of the driver’s seat and into the passenger seat, who would you have a driving you, which car and which circuit?
DB: I’m not at all keen on any of that! My mind runs back to Spa on the old track and if I went as a passenger with anybody. It did actually happen, I was trying to learn the Nürburgring with my dear old 3.8 E-type Jaguar because I had never been to the ring in 68, and I thought I should learn it in something rather insignificant. In the I was going to drive a Chevron B16, so was going round in the E-type and I did about five laps and had no brakes left and it was all overheating and I wasn’t going that quickly and I still didn’t know where the hell I was. One of the French drivers, Patrick Depailler who really only knew me from Formula 3 said “hey Derek why don’t I take you round? I’ve done a couple of 84 hour races here.” I suppose if it’s going round any track, Nürburgring is probably the one you can suffer the most.
GW: Was that really Depailler you think?
DB: You think I was bloody lying again? You’ve been around motor racing too long, you don’t believe anybody do you?
GW: Different eras I was thinking.
DB: Was only about a year you know, that’s a year not an era, just year spelt the other way round. Anyway I love Gary! He only appears when you don’t want him.
So he said “come and jump in my little Renault Alpine.” Of course those little things are about 2.6 high, and he wasn’t terribly tall so I squeezed myself in and off we went round the ‘ring and I have to say I did learn it remarkably quickly.
EF: Is that because you were so desperate not to do another lap with him, you had to learn it very quickly?
DB: Funnily enough if someone takes you around Silverstone fast it’s pretty frightening, but to be taken round the Nürburgring it’s absolutely educational and amazing. The thing about the ‘ring is; once you realise the bloke isn’t about to crash, he’s not really trying to overshow himself, you’re very happy to sit there because you’re taking it in. Around Silverstone I know what the limits are and if I see this bloke coming in with everything locked up, facing the wrong way, I know we’re in a spot of bother. Patrick was probably the best example of anybody learning a track
GW: Was he smoking while driving?
DB: No we had both hands on the wheel believe me. And he didn’t have it turned the other way in his mouth when he went around a corner.
EF: We mentioned this earlier, before we went on air, would you rather one more lap at Le Mans in ‘83 to try and catch Holbert, or one more lap of fuel in ‘88 when Ludwig ran dry?
DB: In reality the second, but the first one if I had another lap we would have won it, because they weren’t going to go another lap. Another couple hundred yards would have done actually. But I think the race in ‘88 – I call it the Ludwig race, I can’t think why – that we could have done just with another lap in there, because when you deserve to win, the way we’d driven so hard and led the race only to find one of our teammates tried to do an extra lap to prove he was a better German than the others, was a bit tough. But I still get on with Klaus, he really knows that he screwed up. I remember during the race they said Herr Ludwig gets in again and I said “he ain’t getting in again, leave him out.” But we were both very upset.
EF: What was it like to get the call from Maranello and what it was like meeting Enzo for the first time? It must been quite a surreal experience?
DB: I’ve written quite a very good book, I think. It is still available, they certainly haven’t run out, because Redmond’s isn’t nearly as good as mine! No, actually Brian’s book is fantastic and John Fitzpatrick’s is coming out any day now as well.
GW: It’s coming out soon, I think it’s reviewed in this month’s Motor Sport magazine.
DB: Both of them are good books.
Can you imagine, I’d just got up into Formula Two and done a couple of races, the tragedy of Jimmy Clark dying in my second race which was at Hockenheim. He was my hero as far as longevity and what he had done and who he was, and what an amazing person. But there he was, not surviving Hockenheim. After that I didn’t really know if I was going to carry on racing in so many ways, but it’s funny for some reason you just carry on because that’s all you set your mind on doing: becoming a racing driver.
I think the first call came from Keith at Shell, who sponsored Ferrari. So Keith contacted me from London and said “Ferrari are bringing a car over Crystal Palace in three weeks’ time and after the race they’d like you to do a test Goodwood.” As you can imagine I was pretty damn excited because I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d ever get a request from Ferrari. I said “yes, that would be wonderful.” I was racing at Crystal Palace in my Formula Two Brabham from Church Farm Racing.
We went to Crystal Palace with Jacky Ickx in the Ferrari and I was in my Brabham and of course Jacky had a crash and the car was wrecked, and I thought “that’s my luck,” as you seemed to go with luck in those days. That was it “we’re not testing now, thanks Mr Bell.” Two weeks later I got a call “would you come to Monza to test?” So I went to Monza and we tested, there were about 12 or 14 of us, most of them Italians. Enzo for some reason wasn’t too keen on Italians which was very unfair, apart from he couldn’t afford the repair bills all the time! Somehow I must have impressed – I don’t know what the lap times were, I knew the track obviously – we’d raced Formula Two and Three there. I got the call “Signor Bell come to Maranello,” so I went down to Maranello that night my Fiat 124 and stayed at the Realfini Hotel – there’s lots of stories involved that doesn’t affect my driving ability but was quite funny getting to know the local culture rather quickly.
The next day I went out to the factory, I was picked up and taken out there, and of course I walked around the factory and there was nobody working. I was with one of the secretaries – male secretary – walking around and I said “there’s no people,” he said “it’s a national holiday today.” I thought “that’s unusual on Wednesday,” but I learnt over the next two years that a national holiday meant they were on strike.
EF: Sciopero. One of the few Italian words I can remember off the top of my head.
DB: I didn’t know you were so educated.
EF: I’m definitely not
DB: Anyway, I was walking around the factory seeing everything, it was astonishing, long story obviously, and around the corner came this gentleman with a smaller chap beside him with a sort of white raincoat over his shoulders and tinted glasses and that incredibly smooth hair. This chap with me said “here comes il Commendatore now, he’s the one on the left,” as if there was any doubt as to which was Enzo and we talked and it was the most amazing thing. This sight which nobody has ever had, as I often say poor old Michael Schumacher: might have made millions and everything but he never saw Enzo Ferrari and I saw him literally walking down between the cars – reds and yellows up on the assembly-line – walking towards me. The picture would be on the front of a magazine, it was absolutely incredible and that was my first impression of Enzo.
Then we went to the Cavallino for lunch and he mainly wanted to talk about Jochen Rindt – he and I were in Formula Two. Jochen and I were finishing first and second quite a lot in those early races, he was just very interested in the whole thing and what I thought my future was. But he was really caught up in Jochen Rindt and I thought “what the hell has be brought me here for? He could have phoned me for that!”
At the same time I’d had a call from Cooper to drive Cooper Formula One. I went to Silverstone to test the little B16, the one that I never got around to at the Nürburgring, and lo and behold Colin Chapman is there with the STP Lotus Turbine and Graham’s going around. He looks up to me on the balcony and goes “you’re going well this year” and I look around going “who the hell is he talking to?” I went “oh thank you very much Mr Chapman,” you know, God has spoken. Five minutes later he said “come down here” so I went down and he said “do you drive an automatic?” and he sent me out in his Jag to do five minutes’ run out. I said I could drive automatic, I can drive anything with 800 hp! I’d never driven anything more than 200 at this point and there I am in a bloody 800 hp turbine at Silverstone!
I was literally sitting in the car in my overalls, ready to go out to test and they said we can’t let you out because we can’t hear where Graham is, because they don’t make a noise, all you could hear was the pads hitting the discs. I sat there for ten minutes thinking “my goodness me.” The next thing they say “sorry Graham’s transmission is broken, so he’s going to take this” so I got out and that was it.
GW: So you were sat in it?
DB: I have a photograph somewhere but I haven’t come across it but I know there is one because I remember seeing it looked bloody boring, me sitting in the paddock with my helmet on looking “crumbs, what am I going to do now?” So that was that but subsequently I went straight to the test at Monza and from there right back to Silverstone to test for Cooper who wanted me to drive that that big Cooper Maserati. It went backwards and forwards two or three times, Ferrari offered me Formula Two with a view to Formula One and of course Cooper offered me Formula One and “this is the car you’ll have next year Mr Bell,” and I’m going “It takes that long to build it?” And then we talked about a contract: I thought I’d pick up maybe 50,000 quid or something, surely they’d pay you something, all these Formula One drivers got money. We actually got down to the fact of a nominal fee of £5. That was my offer from Coopers.
EF: Nothing’s changed between now and then.
DB: It wasn’t John Cooper who said that, it was his sidekick. So I decided it was Ferrari, it had to be – it needed to be – Ferrari but it’s a long story.
EF: There’s a follow-up question: the good and bad points of racing for Ferrari. It wasn’t the easiest of teams to race for because of politics and various other bits and pieces?
DB: As far as I was concerned I was very obviously number three in the team and Enzo was trying me, I’d don’t know whether he knew Jacky Ickx was leaving – I’m sure he didn’t in June. I don’t know what he had a mind because he was bringing in the new flat-12 the following year and being a bit of an idiot I didn’t know what was happening next year, but I know he was just trying to find out how well I went generally speaking with a view to the future, so to be honest I didn’t know what was going to happen or what I was being offered for the future at all. There were no promises, and as I say they would phone up and say il Commendatore will have dinner with you tonight, he’ll pick you up at 6:30, and he would come around in his braces, the door would be opened and off we’d go to dinner. It was an astonishing experience for me, nothing in the whole of the time I was at Ferrari could I say I was disappointed in him because it wasn’t his fault. The fact was we were there at the wrong time and even Mauro Foghieri a few years ago when we met said “it was such a pity came at the wrong time,” because obviously I wasn’t slow, I was leading the European championship in Formula Two, and I went on to drive quite well for Surtees. I knew I wasn’t a World Champion: I’ve never felt that, but I was certainly a good second string driver, might’ve been better for all I know.
GW: Did Enzo speak in English or did he speak through a translator?
DB: No, he spoke French, so I had to speak French. Everybody said he spoke English but he just didn’t do it because he didn’t want to make it easy for me and difficult for him so we struggled away in French.
GW: How good was your French back in those days?
DB: Not very good but it did get better very quickly!
EF: Back to sportscars, how did the Bob Tullius Jaguar test come about and were Porsche aware?
DB: You didn’t explain it very well there Ed!
The Tullius car was raced in America to slightly different rules and regulations. Holbert and I were winning most of the races, the Tullius car was always around but I would say only beat us once. It want a bad car, it was very sweet and a V12, normally aspirated, therefore quite an easy car to drive in many ways. Ickx and I were driving a 962 at Silverstone in the 1,000 kms and we won the race on the Sunday, but prior to that I had a call from Jim Randle at Jaguar who said “would there be a possibility to bring the car over to evaluate it and would you be able to drive it?” I spoke to Porsche, the only benefit would be to Porsche, so I stayed on after the 1000 kms and the next day drove the car. It went extremely well, it was on ITN news that night, it was quite a big deal: Jaguar are coming back to racing, Le Mans, all that sort of thing. I did quite a lot of laps, we didn’t change the car much and I can’t remember exactly who was there to run it. I never knew the purpose of it, I didn’t know the Walkinshaw thing was around the corner. It just wasn’t as good as the 962, in America we weren’t allowed as much ground effect and the cars ran a bit higher, so all in all it didn’t have the grip around the corners. It wasn’t that much slower, I think I gave it a fair run but I was still a second-and-a-half to two seconds slower. I don’t know what their ultimate plan was. Nobody from Walkinshaw was there and I didn’t know they were headed back that way.
EF: I’m going to be very precise with my questions from now on! There’s always interest around Steve McQueen. What was he really like? You got to know him well on the set of Le Mans. How did you rate his driving skills? One camp thinks he was totally overrated…
GW: The Mario Andretti camp
EF: … and the other camp think he was very good behind the wheel. What are your memories of him and his driving skills?
DB: You have to realise when you’re on a film you always drive a little bit under the maximum because you’re not lapping the whole track. We were using a third or a quarter of the track at a time and we weren’t hanging about. You get very bored if you don’t go fast, you really want to drive. I insisted after having seen the Grand Prix film where everything was Formula Fords looking like Grand Prix cars, I felt you can’t just make cars look faster, you had to drive at the speeds and they were the real speeds. I’d only done two sportscar races, Spa and Le Mans and there I was driving in the Le Mans movie. I wasn’t the best one to judge anybody but all I will tell you is I was driving with Jo Siffert a lot in the film, more than anyone else and Jo is in a 917, Steve was in a 917 and I was in a 512 Ferrari as I had raced. Consequently, my answer to that is Steve to me was very good, whether he would have made a great racing driver I had no idea but then at 45 he aint gonna start becoming a great racing driver. Give him a break. All the other Mario camp, I wish I’d never heard that, they started when they were in diapers so they had to become good, it’s very difficult to become that good at 45.
GW: McQueen drove your Brabham didn’t he?
DB: Yes he drove it on Bugatti. Only because I knew he was good enough to drive it. He didn’t spin it or anything, I don’t think I ever saw him spin now that’s bloody good in a 917 and to drive my little F2 round, he gingerly went round for five laps and don’t forget he’d never sat in a single-seater to my knowledge. He was very sensible and considering his wild exterior, the character he appeared to have with bikes and driving in Bullet and that sort of thing, no he had his head screwed on correctly. I thought he was very good. I didn’t have a problem with him getting in amongst us and that one occasion when I was in front, he was behind me and Jo behind him and we came to the White House, we’d been through five times, take six and we came up to the White House and I just didn’t lift off as much and didn’t brake as much and I flicked it in and it was a bloody fast corner, we came out the other side and he was still behind me, we got to the end of the run at Ford chicane, Jo pulled up behind him and Steve leapt out of the car and his face was as white as his mask was and he said “you bloody idiot why did you take me through there so fast?” I said “you didn’t have to follow!” He could have backed off, but he didn’t.
GW: Do you believe the story that during the filming, with the 908 with the camera gear entered in the race, that during the night he snuck out in the car and did a stint? Do you believe that?
GW: Because we all want it to be true don’t we
DB: I don’t think he did, because he wasn’t insured. It was his money that went into the first half of the film which he subsequently lost. I can’t believe he was that stupid or anyone around him would let him get in a race car and the French organisers let him get in and put on someone’s helmet and pretend to be a photographer. I can’t see it. I know how desperate he was to race in it and I think he could have been ok in it, I don’t know how consistently good he was but I swear he didn’t do that.
EF: What was your time at Broadspeed like and what was it like to work with Ralph Broad and the mighty XJC?
DB: Blimey… it just makes me laugh every time I think about it. It wasn’t a laughing matter. Ralph was such a character, so amusing. British team leaders always seem to be characters from John Wyer throughout my career, they have such an amazing aura about them and a humour. Broadspeed was no exception, he never stopped smoking cigarettes, he rushed around at 100 miles per hour, he had to do everything himself, and we knew he was on lots of pills because he had some illness. He was such a character. We all said he over-engineered the car but we’re not engineers we’re drivers so I’ll shut up on that point. But there was so much trick stuff on it, to the degree where people said “you had power steering” yeah we had a power steering pump but it was pumping oil around the engine because we needed a dry sump and we weren’t allowed one. You could hardly turn the bloody steering wheel but we had good lubrication!
He was bloody clever and I can see really that’s where Tom Walkinshaw learnt a lot of his tricks, Ralph was brilliant, you could write a book about his stuff. We never got the car quite in time so they put us in the Dolomite Sprint in a couple of races. The classic one was the head of marketing for British Leyland, three weeks before the first race at Salzburg said “ladies and gentleman, this is the car we are going to win at Salzburg in three weeks” and the drivers went “we haven’t driven it yet!” We drove the Dolomite Sprint three weeks later, there was a lack of communication between Ralph Broad and the hierarchy. He was very clever, there was lots of stuff on the car. Lots of things that went wrong but I learned about development. The first thing was the fact you couldn’t get the engine to run every well. When it did run you got the lubrication right it means you could do more laps and then you found the transmission had a problem and when you got that right you felt you could do six laps without a problem and then the wheels would fall off. I remember one overtaking me coming down the Lavant Straight and thinking “that is not good. It must be my wheel because I’m the only one on the track at right now.” It went bounding by me, I tried to balance it into Woodcote on three wheels and it took a day to find it. It bounced somewhere over to Mithril Racing. We had a lot of laughs and I can’t use half of Ralph’s language which was hilarious.
GW: Is it true that the engine took six hour to change on that car? That’s a story I’ve heard.
DB: Well it weighed a lot!
GW: I’m told the car weighed two tons.
DB: it was very heavy, difficult to stop but my god it was quick some times. I must tell you a story, the best race it did. We knew we would never win a race against BMW, the car was heavy so we were going to Nürburgring with Andy Rouse as my teammate and I think it was Tim Schenken and John Fitzpatrick in the other one. I remember saying to Andy “we’re not going to win here so let’s not go to win, let’s go to finish, because round the Nürburgring this car aint gonna land off every jump and keep together if we go flat out.” So he said “ok”. We ran second, we didn’t hang about but we’d let the BMW go, and at the end of the race lo and behold who came second? We do. I think “pretty good”. Up comes Eddie who used to write for Powerslide, we were walking to the winners rostrum for our second place and Eddie says “that was very good Derek. Excellent drive from you two guys” I said “Eddie we were only second” he said “second is good “I said “we’ve got to win Eddie.” Eddie said “we were second once, look where we are now.”
GW: It was second twice actually.
DB: The one race we were going to win, famous last words, would have been the Tourist Trophy at the end of that year. We were leading pleasantly, no problems and it wasn’t long from the end and Andy had a bit of a moment going round Abbey and that was it.
GW: Was it not a technical fault?
DB: Not unless he had some wheels falling off. He didn’t blame it on anything he just said “I screwed up.”
EF: Which drive did you turn down or were otherwise engaged for did you wish you had done? Was that phrased ok? I’ve got a real complex about it now!
DB: [Pauses] It was beautifully phrased, I was trying to find fault with it.
There wasn’t a drive that I turned down at all…
GW: You never turned anything down did you?
DB: No I didn’t did I?
I must admit when I had Ferrari, Cooper and even Lotus at that point, and then at the same time John Wyer wanted me to drive the GT40 at Le Mans, I would have driven with Pedro who went on to win, which could have been my first win but Ferrari couldn’t accept me leaving the team to race for Ford. I can’t think why…
Anyway, there were missed opportunities yes, the most poignant one was the fact that at the end of the ’71 one season with the 917, the end of that era sadly, David Yorke was off, he wasn’t required anymore because he wasn’t involved with the Mirage team, so he was off to Martini to run a Formula One team and Martini sponsored Porsche 917 so we all knew each other and David said “If I come to run a team for you Derek Bell will be driving for me” which is really good because he obviously had a bit of confidence in me. That was going to be the deal and actually he went along during that autumn and he went to Brabham and had a very good relationship with them and we were going to run two cars, me and Carlos Reutemann in a Brabham team I guess with Cosworth engines.
At the same time Tecno came along out of the blue and said “we’re going to run a car with a flat-12 engine in it and we’ve been great in Formula Three, great in Karting and great in Formula Two.” I couldn’t find fault with it and David said “they’ve come along and brought the Martini brothers who were Italian, what more would an Italian want than another Italian car to beat Ferrari?” which they were convinced it would do. I said “oh yeah?” I hadn’t been around long but I know that doesn’t happen. So that was it, we were all set up and eventually they said “it depends on the test” the test was months late, the Brabham thing had gone out the door and we went to test, it ran all day on the Pirelli test track so you couldn’t go fast but it did alright but we didn’t race until June or July later that year. That was a great disappointment because I would have loved to have driven for Brabham with Carlos who I knew I was the equal of in Formula Two and Formula One wasn’t much different, just 150 hp in those days. The Braham’s were great chassis and it would have been wonderful but then I got out and went to sportscars and I’ve still been racing so I made the right decision. That worked ok. There wasn’t anything really apart from that disappointment.
EF: Let’s turn our attention to the Hall of Fame. Congratulations again on being voted in as the 2016 sportscar inductee, very well deserved.
DB: Thank you very much.
EF: Last year we had a list of 12 names which the public voted on. We want to try and give the public a fresh set of names, but there are three who came very close to Derek: [Brian] Redman, [Pedro] Rodriguez and [Vic] Elford. I propose they should go back in, they’re very worthy.
DB: I think of poor old Vic, he doesn’t get recognised enough.
GW: Do you think he’s an underrated sportscar racer.
DB: He is, but he retired. If he hadn’t retired he would have been great. He did a bit of this, did Formula One, won the Monte Carlo Rally, won Daytona, both of those for Porsche in the same year. It’s amazing what he did but then he decided he wanted to run his own team so he sort of shot himself in the foot. He was amazingly fast, he was a real competitor. I only knew him very briefly, in ’71, the one person we had to beat every time was Elford, or Elford’s car. He was outstandingly quick.
GW: He had a lot of experience in the 917. He told me that he is the only guy to drive every iteration of the car.
DB: He could be yes. I wouldn’t dispute that. He was very close to Porsche, he spoke fluent German and they obviously loved him. He got in very close with the rally project and because of the rallying you spend a lot of time with these people whereas as a race driver you go for the weekend and come away. He’s an amazing talent.
Having said that, Brian Redman had a better sportscar career. Forget they both did Formula One in the same diabolical car actually.
GW: They both drove Coopers.
DB: Did I say that? You said that didn’t you? You shouldn’t have said that!
GW: Redman had his big shunt at Spa and Rodriguez drove that car too you realise!
How would you rate Redman? He was a guy who almost didn’t pursue the F1 career.
DB: He had a ruddy great crash of course. I haven’t totally read his book, I’ve read a lot of it and it’s very good. I shouldn’t be saying this about him but he is a great guy. He seemed to bail out all the time. He went off and lived in South Africa for various reasons. One of the reasons I got the drive at Ferrari… but that doesn’t totally make sense, because he left the team. No, I don’t know. He was at Ferrari before me and I went there after him, at the same time he was drove the 312 two years later so he can’t have gone far away. But he did have an accident didn’t he?
He had some big accidents and had a pretty awful career at that point so he left and came back to it and I don’t think you can do that, you’ve got to keep going, you’ve got a head of speed so you should keep going for it. I thought he was amazingly talented. I drove against him in America and he was the king of Formula 5000 and I replaced him a couple of times in America when he was doing other stuff and he was always with the best teams. He was a great talent, but we’re talking about a sportscar driver not single-seaters. Without a doubt if we’re talking about a Hall of Fame with just the talent of being a racing driver Brian would have to be outstanding in that.
GW: Do you think he was a real natural?
DB: He was. What he did was took off to America in ’73, because he realises sportscar racing has changed here, whereas I was just beginning in sportscars so I could afford to sit back and be a test driver with John Wyer for example. I think, of that era he was, in my opinion, the greatest all-rounder.
EF: What are your thoughts on Rodriguez? A worthy candidate?
GW: Absolutely. There’s a mystique around him that someone of my age who never saw him race I don’t really understand. Everyone talked about the BOAC 1,000 at Brands Hatch and the amazing drive. What was he like to drive against and as a man?
DB: Obviously I didn’t know I was going to go to sportscars so I certainly didn’t watch the race because I was at Hockenheim. I didn’t get to know him until I joined John Wyer in ’71 and I knew he was outstanding and as a driver it was like “oh I’ve got to beat Rodriguez and Siffert? How am I going to go as quick as they do?” but one does, much like the Jacky Ickx scenario, you learn so much from them and they are such a target to go for all the time. I thought he was outstanding, to me he certainly was the quickest in our team
GW: Quicker than Siffert?
DB: Jo could do it but didn’t do it as regularly as Pedro in my opinion. Maybe Jo might have been a bit harsher on the car, again I wouldn’t know. Pedro was exceptionally good. I must admit three races in Pedro said, after I got pole at Spa on the old track. They talk about Formula One out there, averaging, the speeds at Spa and I’m thinking “I did 164 mph average around the old track, with no barriers”. Then again if the cars went around there now they would take off. They would go 200 mph average. But it was special for us in those days. Pedro said to me “I think it’s time you drive with me Derek!” As he ate on another one of his hot peppers. He was very quiet, easy going, never said much, just got on with it.
The only thing I will say and it is not to his detriment, but you survey drivers and it was very brief because I wasn’t with him for that long, about five races in the same team, but the people used to come and say “you should see Pedro overtaking out there” and I remember I was sitting back listening because I was so new to it all and people were saying “he can’t do that forever. He’s going to hit somebody one day. Somebody is going to shut the door on him.” You saw the Donohue car at Daytona, it wasn’t blue any more, it was covered in bloody grey racers tape, he kept hitting it. Jackie Oliver didn’t do that sort of thing and in many ways our car didn’t get damaged, but Pedro just went for it and we always felt you can’t do that forever. It’s an awful thing to say to a guy who can’t defend himself. He was outrageously good but he couldn’t quite control it sometimes. He and Jo hitting at the bottom of Eau Rouge, that brilliant picture.
GW: Would you think Siffert should be on our list? As a great? You look at his successes at the end of 60s.
DB: He drove the Porsche all through that era. He was as quick as anybody and probably quicker than most. You’ve got to think there was Siffert, Rodriguez, Elford and Brian too. I would say Elford just had something extra.
DB: I shouldn’t say that because I was in it but you see Brian had moved on when I got into sportscars although I drove against him in the 312 Ferrari but I thought Pedro and Elford and Siffert would take extra chances whereas a lot of the other guys didn’t.
GW: What was Siffert like as a man? He always looked the Swiss gentleman.
DB: He was very charming, he was a perfect teammate for me because I got on so well with him. I used to phone them up during the week because I’d get a call from Wyer “would you come testing at Silverstone tomorrow” and I’d say “see you at Silverstone tomorrow Jo!” and he would say “oh I’m not coming there.” So Id phone up Pedro “no, I’m not coming testing.” They didn’t want to drive the 917, they were so terrified because of what I had been before. They had driven it in ’70 so they knew it was damn good but it was this funny sort of “we’ll leave it to you and Jackie Oliver” As a person he was great, great enthusiasm. He was a really nice guy. I lost two teammates that year.
EF: So we’re agreed Redman, Elford and Rodriguez are back in the pot.
The one’s we are looking at dropping out are: [Jean] Rondeau, Wyer, [Olivier] Gendebien, Ludwig, [Reinhold] Joest, [Woolf] Barnarto, [Allan] McNish and [Henri] Pescarolo.
GW: Well I want to suggest Wyer, because I want to hear Derek tell us some stories about John Wyer, because I’m too young to remember. I never met John Wyer. What was he like to work with, and why was he so good?
DB: Its experience again. He had this dry sense of humour. Frank Gardner used to call him Death Ray because he used to walk around sort of stooping. He never looked very well, he looked terribly pallid, didn’t speak to anybody. I was in the Gulf factory one day in jeans and a fancy shirt and I didn’t quite say good morning, and he looked across and said “Good morning Bell… a riot of colour again I see.”
Db: He was old school, it was just like being at bloody school. That’s why I loved it, remember I was with him with all the guys we just mentioned really, and they’d been through it as well. He was a headmaster and you had to think “oh not a good time to talk to him today, best leave him out of it.” As I said dear old Frank Gardner called him death ray because if he gave you that look you’d think “oh shit I’m going to die later.”
He was an amazing character, there weren’t that many stories but the general way the team was run, you had Grady Davies who was a vice president of Gulf Oil, he was a racer himself in America. He was somehow convinced Gulf should race, it was probably him who said “we have to do this”. It went back to the GT40s remember. Before that John Wyer ran the Aston Martin team and he had the big fire at Goodwood in the 9-hour race, throwing churns of fuel in the middle of the might and the car caught fire. The whole pits went up pretty badly.
Everybody around him, he had John Horsman underneath, who was a very bright engineer, who’d gone through the real routine of becoming an engineer. You had David Yorke who was team manager and look after the drivers and even when David talked to you “you’d go: yes David, certainly, whatever you say.” It was like that.
I thought all the teams I went to would be like that, I thought Ferrari would be like that and it wasn’t. It was like help yourself when the car comes in, might as well jump in. JW was very serious, very correct. The records they kept were unbelievable. We were testing the Mirage in ’73 or something at Sebring, the bloody thing was awful. It wouldn’t go anywhere at all fast. They’d all sit around “how are we going to sort this out” and old Wyer would say “Arnold [Stafford] contact Woking. Go to the records of when we ran the GT40 here in ’68.” So Arnold would go and come back with something they had done when we had a similar handling thing “there we are, we’ll try that on our Mirage” and it would work. Everything was done long hand, and when you saw it two weeks later it was all done out by typing. Most places I went it was done on the back of a cigarette packet. He gave me that amazing guidance, which Jacky did, Chris Amon did in many ways. I’m totally disorganised myself, so it did help a lot, but they were so methodical.
EF: We’re all agreed Wyer should go back into the pot?
We should throw in some new names…
GW: Whilst we’re on engineers, people on that side of the pit wall: Norbert Singer, who is a legend isn’t he? A man who was instrumental in, I think we can say, he played a part in all of Porsche’s first 16 Le Mans wins. He was there as a sort of guiding light when your career kick-started again in the 80s.
DB: He was there with the 917. I remember vividly he was in charge of the 917 test we did in the April at Le Mans. We were walking across the paddock after practice at Le Mans test week he said “what revs are you pulling on the straight”. I said “8,100” he said “that is good because at 8,200 she blows up”.
“Okay!” I got the message, whereas at Ferrari you take it till you get valve bounce then shift. Then he got his slide rule out and he starts to laugh, we’re still walking. I said what are you laughing about?” He said “I just calculated your top speed” I said what is it?” he said “I think it’s better you don’t know.”
We keep walking. I said “look. Siffert, me, Jackie and Rodriguez have got to drive these cars for 24 hours. It’s nice to know how fast you’re going.” He said “allowing for tyre growth that’s 396 kph,” which is 246 mph.
DB: And taking the kink flat.
DB: It’s amazing. In a car we didn’t have ground effects. It wouldn’t go that fast with ground effect that’s why we only did 230-odd in the 962’s you see.
GW: What was the 956, 962… they were amazing cars and very important in your career, Why were they such good cars? Were they just engineered so well?
DB: Yes. Because it was a Porsche. There’s nobody that’s done so much for endurance racing as Porsche, in the last 40 years or something. What they have done with what they came in with, even the Piëch factor insisting on having a 917 and pushing them into the big time and then suddenly the 935s and they saw the rules changing and Norbert probably had something to do with the rule changes. Suddenly they’re coming out with this monocoque.
I remember when I got the opportunity to drive it. Ickx and I had won in the 936 in ’81. I get summoned back to the factory for the Christmas thing and Helmuth Bott says “we’d like to talk to you about next year, were bringing in these Group C cars the 956, we’d like you to be in one of the cars. I said “fantastic thank you very much.” I was looking a bit vacant and said “what’s a Group C car?” he said “well, we’re building a monocoque chassis. We have never built a monocoque chassis, we are also building a horizontally opposed engine. But nobody has ever put a horizontally opposed engine into a monocoque chassis. We have ground effects as well and nobody has done all those together.” I thought it looks a bit bleak this. He looks at me “but, we have never been wrong before!”
So that’s sums up Porsche and how they go racing.
GW: Singer led the design of all the cars, he focused on the aero and project managed, if you like. But he was very important at the race track as well. Did he basically engineer one of the cars at the races?
DB: He always did. He was totally in charge of that and oversaw basically both of the cars. After that was over I would phone him up about something and he always told the truth. Those flat bottomed cars that time, I went and saw him and said “Norbert my car is shaking and shuddering, breaking all the mirrors off down Mulsanne, I can’t go flat out.” He said “how thick is the floor? I said “12 mm” he said “you need 18 mm.” and that was for another team. But I was one of his drivers and they always have a great loyalty. Even some work they did on that little red Porsche five or six years ago, I went to pay they said “no, you are part of our family.” They have always been like that.
EF: I’ll put Singer in at the moment.
GW: Shall we stay on the Porsche thing. As people who have been important in the history of Porsche motorsport, not just on the driving side. Al Holbert Jr, a guy you had a lot of success with. His significance in North America is not just about driving is it?
DB: No you’re right. The only thing I would say is Al was there for such a brief time sadly. It was five years. I would be very happy for Al to be in it, because he was probably the best, he was the best all-round driver I worked with. He ran the team, he designed his own modifications for the car, he would build them and the engines were done at Andial, he would team manage and he would drive the thing on race day and be very quick. As quick as I was and never put a foot wrong. He was the best all-round person I ever worked with and I don’t think he gets enough accolades for what he did. But it was such a short space of time.
GW: Don’t forget as well as winning IMSA titles in the 80s he won IMSA titles with Chevrolet in the 70s, so in terms of Porsche obviously his time was cut short, but he had a significant career before then. He was not really so much within our remit, or on the verges of it. He was a handy Can-Am driver.
DB: He was amazing. And Indycar. He was so versatile, he was absolutely amazing. You’ve got a heck of a difficult task. You see if you really go back John Wyer did a hell of a lot because of Aston Martin, the GT40, then of course with the 917 and then the Mirage. He was out there for 10 or 12 years wasn’t he?
GW: Going back to Holbert, to throw in some stats. 49 IMSA wins during his career, which in the original IMSA, that’s a record.
DB: It’s amazing. I take him as an all-rounder.
EF: I’m going to throw two names in, who I think are worthy. [Emanuele] Pirro and Phil Hill. Pirro is a five-time Le Mans winner. Anyone who can do that, Derek, has obviously done a good job.
DB: Bloody good.
GW: [Frank] Biela as well. Talking of the five-win club should we throw Frank Biela in as well.
EF: Yes, Pirro and Biela. Phil Hill because he won Sebring lots, he won loads of sportscar races and I think he was an extremely quick and safe driver. Would you agree?
DB: You can’t dispute it. The people you are talking about are so good. What a group. That’s why you’re doing what you’re doing. You have 12 people, it’s difficult to select 12 from the 25 you’ve probably got. Phil Hill I think, I don’t know enough about his history although I’ve got one of his books.
EF: You’ve got a book out Derek? Available form all good book shops?
GW: From the remainder bin!
DB: Phil was so versatile and drove so many things and you think he was one of the few drivers who came to Europe from America and no doubt if you check into the races he did in remote places like the Bahamas Speedweek, those sort of things that those drivers went and did. He is up there. You should look at a bit more of their history.
GW: Did you ever race against Phil Hill? Your careers just abutted rather than overlapped.
DB: I don’t think so no.
EF: A couple more names from the Motor Sport office: [Stefan] Bellof and Bob Wollek. What are your thoughts on those?
DB: They are both outstanding. They do deserve accolades, of course they do. Stefan wasn’t there long enough. He made such an impression in such a short space of time.
GW: His star shone so brightly.
DB: It did, didn’t it? He was outstanding. He was no doubt the quickest of all the drivers I ever raced with, that’s for sure.
GW: Did they deliberately pair him with you, because they wanted you as the old hand to tutor him.
DB: Thanks Gary. You’re getting up there too! They did the same with Stuck, he told me three or four years ago – there’s another one for example…
EF: …he’s on my list.
DB: Hans Stuck was, I would say, Hans was just as quick as Bellof, just that we saw him later on in his career.
GW: On Bellof, the famous 6 min. 11 sec. lap of the Nordschleife and then the accident that he had when he wrote the car off, tell us the story about you going on to the pit wall and saying maybe they needed to reign him back…
DB: And then he never came round again. I’d never won at the Nürburgring. There were certain race tracks you say “poor bugger, he didn’t win there.” I’d think “I’ve got to win this damn race.” I’d done Formula Two lap records. I never won, leading until the last lap but never won. We were well in the lead and I thought I’d kept my end up because we hadn’t lost the lead when I got in, I did some of my quickest laps but they weren’t as quick as his! I went up to Helmuth Bott who was in the pits and said “is that 14 minutes to go? Mightn’t you tell him to hold or take it easy?” He looked at me and said “Isn’t be brilliant?” and turned around to the team and he didn’t come round again.
He was brilliant overall. I’m not going into his life and all that. He was astonishingly good, I was always disappointed and it’s in his book when I was interviewed I don’t think he was managed properly. Don’t you think? The fact they let him drive… anything else you’d get told “hey calm down son.” What have they done with [Max] Verstappen? Calm down a bit. But they never told Stefan.
GW: Do you think there was no one there?
Db: No, there was no one there and I was always a bit disappointed in the people around him, remembering he was in a Formula One team as well. Somebody didn’t say “this kid is bloody brilliant but we need to make him realise how good he was”.
GW: You’d think Ken Tyrrell…?
DB: Well I didn’t mention his name but when I went into Formula One I thought “thank goodness for that. Ken will reign him in, he calmed Francois Cevert.” I thought when he went to Tyrrell he would make a change. Maybe he was unchangeable and maybe Ken if he could talk would say “I tried Derek.”
You see he didn’t know his limits. There’ve been lots of drivers over the years who didn’t know their limits and not many of them are here.
EF: I’ll run through the names we’ve got: Redman, Rodriguez, Elford, Pirro, Biela, Hill, Siffert, Wyer, Singer.
I’m going to ask whether the likes of Barnarto should be dropped. Is he a better name than any of these, because he did so much?
GW: Obviously a man who has an unbeaten record at Le Mans, entered three times, wins three times. Important in the history of Bentley, saved the company, owned it. But then I would say Pescarolo – an amazing career as a driver.
DB: What about Joest? If we are talking about team owners.
GW: We could argue for them all, although maybe Derek won’t argue for Ludwig! Gendebien who was the Ickx of his era.
Am I allowed to throw any other names into the hat?
EF: Well we have the 12 at the moment: Redman, Rodriguez, Elford, Pirro, Biela, Hill, Siffert, Wyer, Singer, Holbert, Bellof, Stuck.
If we’re going to put any more in there we have to be willing to drop one of those. I think there is an argument, a very valid argument for all of those people and likewise there are very valid arguments for people we are leaving off.
GW: And the people we didn’t talk about. Wollek we just touched on very briefly, I’d like to put in Capello, if we have Pirro and Biela. He is the overlooked driver of that generation of Audi driver because he was always in the shadow of TK and McNish, we forget that he is a three-time Le Mans winner. The record for the most Sebring wins.
That brings us back to Andy Wallace because I wanted to talk about the >> year when you perhaps did win Sebring then you would have joined the Triple Crown club.
DB: I’m not saying any more, we haven’t got any time. But you’re right. I was thinking what a horrible little car it was.
GW: For me Siffert, Singer, Wyer, Bellof, Stuck. We all seem to agree there then I think we’ve got the Pirro, Biela, Hill, Wollek, Wallace, Capello fighting it out for the remaining slots.
EF: We’ve got to pick three from these names.
GW: I would like to see Bob Wollek in it. For me he was a hero. He didn’t win Le Mans, Stirling Moss didn’t win the World Championship.
EF: Hall of Fame isn’t about stats, it’s about more than that.
GW: He’s a legend. The length of his career, the achievements he was still racking up in his 50s.
DB: He was an iron man. He was unbelievably strong. I would say “how the hell do you do it Bob?” He would keep going under all these conditions.
GW: Is it true back in the 80s he was a chain smoker?
DB: I don’t remember it but I know he did smoke. What about Biela for god’s sake? He still does.
EF: Let’s put a tick next to Wollek. We have two to choose. Derek, why don’t you pick one?
DB: I would say Phil Hill and Wallace.
EF: So we’re leaving out Pirro, five-time Le Mans winner.
DB: But he can come back next year. I had to wait a bloody long time! I remember Jacky got in ten years ago!
EF: It hasn’t been going for ten years!
DB: I went to some big place in the middle of London, probably five years ago. It was a very impressive event.
EF: I’ve been pushing to get you in every year Derek.
DB: Yes but I didn’t expect to be. You see I didn’t expect it. To me Ickx should have been there before me. I haven’t followed it enough to who got it in the other years, obviously Fangio should have got it, and Stirling should have. The people who have got it ahead of me I would never attempt to be in that world.
EF: So last year it was the first time we split it into categories. This is the second year of it. It’s great because some of these names we wouldn’t be discussing if you could only induct four people from the world of motor racing.
DB: There’s so many that’s the problem.
GW: Could we finish, now Andy Wallace has made the cut. Could we finish with an Andy Wallace story? Tell us a story about McLaren, Dave Price Racing, Harrods, 1995, the near miss at Le Mans with Justin.
DB: We haven’t got time for that.
EF: We do!
DB: You should have come along to Brooklands last Saturday. We had a get together with Gordon Murray and Andy and me and Dave Price. Justin couldn’t make it but he sent across a piece from America with he and Jay Leno in Jay’s garage and in the background the Harrods car and the Ueno Clinic car going down the Mulsanne Straight. I walked in there and went “oh you do like big time racing then Jay?” He has three more McLarens now. So Justin did it with Jay.
It’s really too long a story and having been at the weekend with everybody I’m totally confused as to what happened.
I know we finished third…
GW: It was the clutch release baring.
DB: It was and it wasn’t. There was more than that to it. Basically what I understood from what took place, unbeknownst to us, anybody who was there the other night, McLaren did a 24 hour test at Paul Ricard with the Ueno Clinic car. None of the people said they knew about it. Our team didn’t know about it. The suggestion was that the clutch release bearing that had been quitting in most of the short distance races, hence we all thought we wouldn’t do more than six hours, it was recommended that they should use the standard – this is Gordon Murray speaking – slave cylinder and clutch system that was on the road car. Because that’s what they’d learnt. Somebody in our team supposedly said “no, don’t believe in that. Nobody’s tested it enough.” So we didn’t run it so Gordon Murray said “without a doubt you were going to win that race.”
GW: That’s not the story I’ve heard from within DPR.
DB: You weren’t with Gordon Murray last week who was the mastermind of the car. He knew what took place and was adamant that it was what I’d just told you.
GW: This doesn’t quite correspond with that someone else has told me from within. The guy who engineered the McLaren.
EF: It sounds like another podcast.
DB: If you got that lot in you’d end up not talking. We all did go and have dinner afterwards. Gordon Murray is such an amazing man, there was other innuendo in there, the fact there was a factory car in there and they said there wasn’t but we all know it was. I don’t say it was official factory bit the fact was the car had never appeared until that guy came in from Japan and said “I’ve got the money.”
GW: The factory owned it, the factory put the team together, the factory employed the drivers. I make that a factory car don’t you?
DB: I’m not saying a word!
GW: Because the last time you did Ron Dennis shouted at you!
EF: Gordon Murray always said one of his great regrets is not driving that car on the road to Le Mans and back again.
DB: I’ve driven the Harrods car around France,
GW: Dave Clark’s got it on plates at the moment doesn’t he?
DB: He drives it quite a bit, even at £25m. Probably not in London! We did a fabulous rally from Louis Vuitton in London down to Paris one weekend and Gordon was in his McLaren and there were three or four – Nick Mason was in his. I was in Nick Mason’s 3.8 Jag. Dave said “you should drive the McLaren. How many people have raced at Le Mans and then driven it through France” so I did. It was just fantastic.
GW: Can I get one last story in?
People say about the top speed of the McLaren in 1995 but it wasn’t the quickest McLaren that went around Le Mans that year, because the race car had a rear wing and a restrictor so that made it slower in a straight line than a road car. JJ Lehto drove to a restaurant in I think Ray Bellm’s road car and apparently went faster than he did in the race car on the road.
EF: Derek, it’s been an absolutely fantastic hour and twenty minutes. We always seem to scratch the surface but I think we got a few good stories in that one. Thank you so much for having us in your beautiful house and Gary for joining us.