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27 Jul 2018

‘All My Porsche Races’

Extracts from Derek Bell’s new book on his remarkable tenure at Porsche.

Extracts from Derek Bell’s new book on his remarkable tenure at Porsche.
Between 1971 and 2000, Derek Bell entered 200 races for Porsche, winning Le Mans four times and Daytona three. He was twice World Champion, and no other driver scored more Group C victories for the works Porsche team. There were ups and downs along the way, however, as these four accounts reveal…

Spa-Francorchamps 1000 Kilometres
9 May 1971
“This was a frustrating race and one that I reckon we deserved to win. In practice, Jo and Pedro stayed out the whole time so the ‘number twos’ didn’t get out until the second day. Nevertheless, I planted our Porsche on pole. We had reverted to the short-tail configuration, and I must admit to revelling in driving the 917K at Spa.
“Jo started the race and, he and Pedro soon began duking it out. What I didn’t appreciate was the fact that I was faster than Jackie Oliver, who took over from Pedro. I gradually caught Oliver and naturally I felt I should overtake but our team manager, David Yorke, held out the ‘EZ’ sign, which meant we had to hold station. I remember Jo sitting on the wall, goading me to jump Oliver, but team orders are team orders.
“I’ve always wondered why I was instructed to hold station. I wasn’t happy, but what really annoys me is that Jackie loves rubbing my nose in it. To this day, he says: ‘Do you remember that time when I beat you at Spa?’ Yes, I remember…”

Le Mans 24 Hours
13-14 June 1981
“I don’t know if it was the heat that got to everyone that year, but there was some idiotic driving by a lot of guys in the smaller-engined classes. I remember during the night coming up on a couple of cars that were having their own little battle. I flashed my lights to show them that I was there, and the faster car slotted back in behind the slower one. I naturally thought that they had seen me, but then the faster car pulled out in front of me just as I was pulling alongside, which forced me on to the grass.
“I never crossed the finishing line on the last lap. I got to the Ford chicane and was besieged by photographers and marshals. Gendarmes were telling me to ease forward so I was slipping the clutch for all I was worth. I ended up being yanked out of the car by the fuzz and carried to the balcony. I drank quite a bit of Champagne [then] suddenly became rather light-headed and passed out. The last thing I heard was: ‘This man needs help!’

“Later on, there was a party with the Porsche mechanics, which involved drinking a lot more. I managed maybe an hour’s sleep before getting up at 7am to get to Cherbourg for the ferry home. I wasn’t in great shape, but rarely had I been happier.”

Daytona 24 Hours
1-2 February 1986
 “I had wanted to win at Daytona for as long as I could remember. The same went for Al [Holbert]. It was a funny old race, though. I think most of the many 962s had at least a few laps in the lead during the first half of the race, ours included. Unfortunately, we lost a lot of time dealing with problems with fading brake pads and a broken brake line, among other things. Then, during the night, Unser was stuck out on the circuit with a broken throttle cable. He would no doubt have fixed it sooner had he been able to locate the in-car-mounted flashlight… That cost us 35 laps.
“At one point, we were more than 20 laps down on the lead, but through attrition and from driving our socks off, we were back in the hunt with four hours to go. With 90 minutes to run, Al homed-in on AJ Foyt. Al was much faster and survived a lurid spin before taking the lead.
“I don’t mind admitting that I was glad when the race was over. I suffered from terrible cramp during my later stints, and the car was a handful to drive. It was a fantastic feeling to win, though.”

24 Hours of Le Mans
20-21 June 1992
“This wasn’t a brilliant race, but it was nice to be racing with Tiff Needell again. More than anything, though, the opportunity to also be paired with my son Justin was irresistible. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
“ADA Engineering was one of those plucky outfits that punched above its weight. The team’s 962 GTi was meticulously prepared but suffered from not having a ‘cooking’ engine. It was also set up for dry conditions and it rained a lot in ’92!
“Unfortunately, our race was blighted with brake problems. We ended up 12th, which was nothing to get excited about, but some things are a treasure beyond price. Sharing a car with one’s son is terrifying. I couldn’t relax, but I will admit to having a lump in my throat as Justin crossed the line to finish his first ever Le Mans 24 Hours. It was something I will never forget.”

‘Derek Bell – All My Porsche Races’ is co-written by Richard Heseltine and published by Porter Press International. Exclusive PCGB signed copies are available from the club shop HERE.

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