The Career of a Champion
Derek Bell MBE, the five time Le Mans winner, the three time Daytona winner and the twice World Sports Car Champion, is, without question, the greatest Englishman ever to compete in endurance racing. His sports car career spans the Ferrari 512 and Porsche 917, the Gulf-Mirage era, Renault’s turbo effort at Le Mans, the Porsche 936, Porsche 956 and 962, the Kremer Porsche K8, the Ferrari 333 SP, and the McLaren F1, which earned him yet another Le Mans podium, with his son Justin, in 1995. The latter was one of the proudest moments of his career, on a par with any of his five outright victories at the famous 24 hour race.
He started out as a marshal at Goodwood, a few corners down from where the career Sir Stirling Moss OBE came to a premature end in 1962. He began racing as an amateur in a Lotus 7 at Goodwood, winning his first ever race in March 1964, in the wet. He quickly progressed to Formula 3 and then Formula 2 with the backing of his step-father’s Church Farm Racing team, turning professional within three years when Enzo Ferrari offered him a Formula 2 drive in the Monza Lotteria. Between 1968 and 1974 he competed in 16 Formula 1 Grand Prix, racing for Ferrari, McLaren, Surtees and Tecno, with a single World Championship point to his credit, driving a Surtees to sixth place at the US Grand Prix, Watkins Glen, in 1970.
Derek’s real talent lay with endurance racing, where he has become a legend. He won back to back World Sports Car Championship titles in 1985 and 1986, three 24 Hours of Daytona in 1986, 1987 and 1989 and five Le Mans victories in 1975, 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1987. Derek’s consistent team mate during this period was Jacky Ickx, racing several Porsche types together, including the Porsche 936, the Porsche 956 and the Porsche 962. The Bell/Ickx is partnership is considered as one of the most famous driver pairings in motorsport history.
He was at his prime during the 1980’s and early 1990’s, becoming the most successful driver of all-time during the reign of the Porsche 956 and Porsche 962, achieving no fewer than 16 outright victories in the World Endurance Championship and 19 in the IMSA Camel GT Championship, a total of 35 wins in seven years.
In 1970 he filmed the cult movie Le Mans with the iconic film star Steve McQueen becoming friends with the man who stated 'You know, I'm not an actor. I just play myself', who proved to be just as talented behind the wheel of a race car as he was on screen. During the course of filming Derek showed that motorsport, even for the silver screen, can be a dangerous business, suffering burns to his face when the Ferrari 512 he was driving caught fire following a racing sequence on the Le Mans circuit.
Derek’s media career began in the 1990’s, which saw him go on to become the Formula 1 analyst for ESPN and then Foxsports for a period of 8 years. He is just as adept in front of the small screen as he is on the radio, a natural live presenter with a fluid and effortless delivery.
He was made the Honouree for the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2007, receiving a standing ovation from 600 racers and non-racers alike, following his acceptance speech. His charm, wit, and charisma have made him a popular speaker at dinners and conferences around the world, and regularly speaks at corporate team building events. He is always keen to point out that the driver is just the ‘tip of a very large mountain’. It takes a lot of work from a lot of people to get a race car, not only across the finishing line, but just onto the tarmac itself.
At the peak of career Derek was one of the top sports car and endurance race car drivers in the world. He has never officially stopped racing professionally and still enjoys driving in historic races. His talents are such that he can say what few racing drivers can, ‘I have never lost a position in a sports car race due to me making a mistake’.
He also represents global brands, including financial institutions, globally recognised motoring events and automotive giants such as Porsche and Bentley. Derek was a consultant for the 2001 Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans project, with his current role as a Bentley brand ambassador taking him all over the world. Derek is a proud patron of the charity Hope for Tomorrow, which funds mobile chemotherapy units throughout the United Kingdom and the charity Mission Motorsport which helps servicemen and women who have been medically discharged gain new skills, their self confidence and potential careers through motorsport.
Between work commitments he spends time with his family at their homes in Florida and Sussex in the United Kingdom.
Derek was awarded the MBE in 1986 for services to motorsport.