Derek Bell MBE, won the Le Mans 24-Hour race
in June for the fifth time in 1987. This was an achievement exceeded by only one man, his former driving partner Jacky Ickx, who had six successes (three of them with Bell) and, at the age of 45, Bell was by far Britain's most successful sportscar driver.
As well as winning the 24-Hour race for the fifth time, Derek Bell also set another unique record: in 1986 he and Al Holbert won the Daytona 24-Hour race in January, and Le Mans in June
, and they pulled off the same double in 1987. That is 96 hours of real endurance racing, unbeaten.
Bell's first Le Mans victory was in 1975
, with Jacky Ickx in the Gulf Mirage DFV. In 1977
he led the race for Renault/Alpine, but failed to finish, and in 1980
he drove a works Porsche for the first time to 13th place.
The 924 Carrera GT was never going to be a winner, certainly not when it burned out three exhaust
valves before the race was over, but this first drive for Dr Porsche's team was the lift-off point for Bell's professional career.
he and Ickx won handsomely at Le Mans in the Jules-sponsored 936, a perfect run during which the cover was never lifted from the engine. Mass, on the other hand, had a variety of problems and finished 12th in a supposedly identical car.
The following year Ickx and Bell led a crushing Porsche 1-2-3 victory, only the second race in the 956's life, but in 1983 they were very narrowly beaten by Vern Schuppan, Hurley Haywood and Al Hollbert.
In 1984 Porsche withdrew its entries in an argument with FISA about rule changes, and in 1985
Bell and Stuck finished third (to the Joest and Lloyd cars) in a works Porsche which was less than totally compatible with its engine management system. The record from 1981 for Bell at Le Mans was first, first, second, third, first and first.
Bell became deeply unhappy about the World Championship fuel consumption formula, preferring the uninhibited American sportscar formula. During interview, Bell stated "We are racing drivers, not computer operators, and you forget what real racing is until you drive in America. I imagine that Formula One is like that as well. Surely there must be some clever people out there who can come up with something better after all these years. In America you can get into a really good race without worrying about the consumption, and if you run short you can dash into the pits for a bit more, and that's your penalty against the Jaguars which don't have a fuel consumption problem".
There were many other interviews that demonstrated, time and again, that Bell believed there was an element of luck to racing - and it was something he felt was not always on his side.
Cynics might say that there's no such thing as luck, that every team makes its own destiny, and to a large extent that is true. Even so, there is often an extra ingredient that can't be explained, as Bell found at Le Mans in 1981
and again in 1987
World Sportscar Championship Titles and Driving At Mount Panorama
Outside of Le Mans, Bell would win two World Sportscar Championship titles in 1985 and 1986, three in the 24 Hours of Daytona (1986-1987 and 1989) along with his five victories at Le Mans in 1975
), mostly teamed with Jacky Ickx in one of the Porsche 936 and Porsche 956/Porsche 962 models. Ickx/Bell is nowadays considered as one of the most famous pairings in motorsport history.
Other noteable appearances include the 1977 Bathurst 1000
(with co-driver Gary Leggatt), 1978 Bathurst 1000
(with co-driver Dieter Quester), 1979 Bathurst 1000
(with co-driver Phil McDonell), 1980 Bathurst 1000
(with co-driver Phil McDonell) and 1981 Bathurst 1000
as co-driver to Allan Moffat
. This last outing was his best result at the mount, the duo coming 3rd in their Mazda RX7
Bell was one of many drivers to take part in the filming of Le Mans (1970)
starring Steve McQueen
. Bell had a lucky escape during the making of the film. The Ferrari 512 he was driving suddenly caught fire whilst getting into position for a take. He managed to get out of the car just before is was engulfed in flames and suffered minor burns. The car was badly damaged but later rebuilt.
Bell was awarded the MBE in 1986 for services to motorsport.