On October 31, 1941, Derek Reginald Bell was born in Pinner, Great Britain. His automotive history is mainly linked to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which he won five times, but very few know that the British driver also raced for Ferrari at the beginning of his career. Attending agricultural college as a teenager, Derek Bell manages to raise funds to enroll in Snetterton driving school, and later Jim Russell, a former driver, will report him to many insiders, indicating a driver with an assured future.
The judgment of the compatriot pushes Derek to believe more and more in his potential, so much so that in 1964 he will buy a Lotus 7, and the following year he will make his debut in Formula 3. The choice will not prove to be a happy one, as the machine will not be competitive and its performance will suffer. On the first occasion, however, Bell will clinch his first career victory at Goodwood, despite adverse weather conditions:
"It was a handicap to run in torrential rain. I started the race with a lot of much faster cars behind me, like Hugh Dibley's Brabham BT8, and I waited for them to come in steaming, but they all spun".
The turning point of his career will come in 1966, and his stepfather will have a decisive role, which in addition to financing him, allowing him to move to Brabham and participate in several European Formula 3 races under the Church Farm brand, will convince Derek in the previous months to focus only on his passion:
"That old man was wonderful. He said he: he leaves the farm alone for a while. You can always go back to work when you are 40, but you can't go to run at that age. As we know, I was 40 when I won Le Mans for the third time. Later the only way forward was Formula 2. The old man had paid for three years of Formula 3, and he very reasonably said that from then onwards I had to find myself money. I wrote hundreds of letters to potential sponsors, and got a response from Avis, who sent me a tag that said: We try harder. At the end the only option was Bognor Regis' NatWest. Surprisingly they gave me in £ 10.000 loan, but the old man had to add the farm as guarantee".
Despite initial concerns, Derek will repay his stepfather's trust, and in 1967 he will win at Zolder, also taking third place in Monaco, and second on the Albi circuit.
"My first real race was Hockenheim. I qualified fifth on Saturday, went back to the hotel in Speyer, and found myself having a cup of tea with two of my heroes, Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill. They both had problems with Team Lotus 48s. Graham qualified fifteenth, Jimmy seventh. The latter said to me: tomorrow, when you double, don't come too close to me. I couldn't believe it, my hero telling me this at my first race in Formula 2, but then he said: the engine had some problems, and it seems they can't fix it. The next day it was cold, and it was raining. Jimmy and Graham gave me a ride to the track and left me in the paddock. From this point on, I never saw Jimmy again. The race was split into two parts; I finished fourth in the first part ahead of Piers Courage. I think Jimmy was in eighth place when he crashed. I didn't know anything about it until I saw his mechanic, Beaky Sims, walking around the paddock with one of Jimmy's shoes in hand, then the rumor started to get around. We were all pretty upset about Jimmy's disappearance".
This season will mark the turning point in Derek's career, since beyond the disappearance of his idol, constantly climbing on the podium as in Thuxton at Eifelrenner, the British manages to impress Enzo Ferrari, who summons him to Maranello. The meeting with the Drake is still one of the episodes of which Bell is most proud:
"A week after Hockenheim, I found myself third in Thruxton behind Jochen Rindt and Jean-Pierre Beltoise, and third again in Eifelrennen, in the bumpy Nurburgring Sudschleife. Formula 2 was therefore going well for me. Maranello. I had a meeting with Enzo Ferrari, we walked down the street to the Cavallino restaurant and had lunch together. It was special. Michael Schumacher may have won five World Championships with Ferrari, but he has never had lunch with Enzo Ferrari".
Ferrari hires Bell, who becomes the new teammate of Ernesto Brambilla, Andrea De Adamiche and Jacky Ickx, in the Formula 2 championship:
"Later I did a test in Monza with the Dino F2. I was racing with several Italian drivers, including Tino Brambilla and Mario Casoni, and, luckily, I was faster than any of them. Ferrari proposed a contract, but I didn't sign it. I wanted to keep it open more possibility. But they put me in the Formula 2 Monza Lottery, and I took the car to pole. During the race I was coming out of the parabolic in the middle of a huge group of cars in the wake, when suddenly, for no reason, my car turned around. There was a huge rear-end collision - three of the four Dinos in the race went out - and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud was thrown out of his Techno. And I hadn't signed my contract".
"I went home mortified by what had happened, but Ferrari filmed the accident and assessed that I had been touched from behind; in any case they did not get angry with me. When I returned to Maranello, Franco Gozzi came to me and said: the Commendatore he was pleased with your pole position. And he gave me a bonus check. So, I signed up for Ferrari. The deal was £ 250 for each Formula 2 race, and if they asked me to take part in a Formula One race it would be 500. I had five more Formula 2 races for them that season. and I went to Modena to test a Formula One on the old track made up of walls and bushes all around. That day it was raining, but all the wet tires were on a truck that was returning from the German Grand Prix, so I used the intermediates and on the outside of turn 1 there was Enzo Ferrari sitting on his 250 GT 2 + 2, who was observing with his dark glasses. Mauro Forghieri looked into the cockpit and said to me: if you crash it's the last time drive a Ferrari".
"There were puddles at the Esse, but the feeling with the car was just great, and the test went quite well. So, they sent three cars to Oulton Park for the Gold Cup, for Chris Amon, Jacky Ickx and me. in fifth position, until the gearbox abandoned me. Three weeks later I was called up to Monza. My first Grand Prix - in a Ferrari, in Italy".
Bell made his debut in Formula 1 at the Italian Grand Prix, in Monza, and in qualifying he was eighth, a few tenths behind Ickx fourth and Amon third. The day after, however, will not be a positive day for Ferrari, despite Ichx climbing on the lowest step of the podium, as Amon will be the protagonist of a bad accident, while on lap five Derek is forced to retire due to engine failure.
"I qualified in the third row with Jackie Stewart and Danny Hulme, half a second slower than my teammate Jacky Ickx, but after five laps the engine stopped, and I had to park. I was fatigued back to the pits, when I was shocked to see my teammate Chris Amon flying over the barriers and into the trees. I was sure he was going to get hurt very badly, and after all the accidents seen in that year I began to think I had to leave that racing world. But when I got to the box told me Chris was fine, so I stopped thinking about it".
Subsequently Derek will demonstrate to the Commendatore that he has seen us right, climbing on the podium at Hockenheim and finishing in sixth place the race run on the Vallelunga circuit.
"Ferrari treated me like the newcomer and took care of me; he always tried to encourage me to be an excellent driver, the best. He was a caring man, he often asked about my wife, who was not well at the time".
However, the adventure with the team from Maranello will prove disappointing, given that Ferrari will not go through a positive period, from an economic point of view, and the car will also not prove competitive, forcing Bell to retire several times in the race.
Despite being innocent, Derek will not be called up to Mexico, and a few months later he will not be confirmed for 1969. The first season in Formula 1 ends without points, while compatriot Graham Hill is crowned World Champion. The beginning of 1969 is very complicated for Derek.
"My contract with Ferrari spanned 1969, but it was their most disastrous year, due to many strikes and financial problems. In Formula 1 they only ran one car and more or less retired from Formula 2 in mid-season. the only Formula 1 race I did was the Daily Express Silverstone, when it was pouring rain and our Firestones had no grip. I finished ninth, Chris 10th. Ferrari let me go and race the McLaren four-wheel-drive at the British Grand Prix, but it was unwieldy, and a suspension broke a few laps after the start of the race".
Subsequently, McLaren will offer him the opportunity to return to the track at Silverstone, but the lack of knowledge of the car will allow the British driver to set only the fifteenth time in qualifying, while in the race the breaking of the suspension will force him to retire yet.
"I wanted to stay in Formula 1, of course, and Tom and I went to meet John Surtees. But Rolf Stommelen came in first with the money from Ford Germany, and all John could offer me was an F5000; it would have been like taking a step back. So, I drove Tom's March 701 at the Argentine Grand Prix, and I was third before that old engine broke down again".
In 1970 Bell's career will once again be at risk, as he will once again be left without a contract: the Tom Weatcroft team will help the British driver, allowing him to race with a Brabham in the European Formula 2 championship.
That step back will restore confidence in Derek, who will start the championship with two podiums and a victory obtained in Barcelona, results that will allow him to return to racing with a Maranello car, thanks to the Belgian importer Jaques Swaters, who asks him to drive the Ferrari to the 1000 km of Spa.
"I should also have driven the yellow 512 at Le Mans, but when Ferrari suggested that I join Ronnie Peterson, Jaques told me to accept, even though I knew I owed nothing to Ferrari after the way they treated me in 1969".
In Belgium, Derek immediately realizes that the cars of the World Sports Prototype Championship are better suited to his driving style, even if, together with De Fierlant, he will reach the finish line eighth, while at the 24 Hours of Le Mans he will have to retire during the thirty-ninth lap, to cause of valve failure.
"It was my Le Mans. All the reports and the official files reported that I had crashed, but it wasn't. I was leading a group of cars at the White House, three 512s, myself, Regazzoni and Mike Parkes, all at 170 mph We caught up with Reine Wisell who was slowing down in her Filipinetti 512. I was overtaking him on two wheels on the grass, and I saw flames from the rearview mirror I continued, and about a minute later my engine had trouble at the Mulsanne Straight. Four 512s were out in one fell swoop, and obviously everyone thought I was involved in the accident too".
"After the race I stayed at Le Mans for several months to work on Steve McQueen's film. My first wife Pam and my children Justin and Melanie were with me, and we shared a house with Steve for a while. I replaced one of the actors by driving. a Ferrari 512, along with Mike Parkes. Richard Attwood and David Piper drove Porsche 917s, plus Jo Siffert and Vic Elford, almost a gang. They paid us $ 100 a day, and $ 200 for the most dangerous jobs. On weekends I used to go racing in my Formula 2 Wheatcroft. When my mechanic came in the Brabham I said to Steve: take a ride. He jumped in and had fun doing a lot of laps on the Bugatti circuit".
Meanwhile, Bell has the chance to compete again in a Formula 1 Grand Prix, also in Belgium, with the Tom Wheatcroft Racing team, which uses a Brabham, but like the previous year, he is only fifteenth on the starting grid, and the day after he collects yet another retirement in Formula 1.
Despite these drawbacks, the second half of 1970 will be very positive for Derek, as in Formula 2 he will fight until the penultimate race for the title with Clay Ragazzoni, finishing second in the drivers' standings, while John Surtees will propose him to drive for his team in the United States Grand Prix, where the British driver will finally be able to prove his worth.
From the thirteenth position from which he sprints, in the race Derek is the protagonist of a great comeback, and despite seeing the podium fade in the end due to a gearbox problem, which risks not showing him the checkered flag again, he finishes sixth, winning the first points in Formula 1.
In the meantime, the British driver continues his collaboration with Ferrari, with whom he shoots a film about the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and participates in the 9 Hours of Kyalami, paired with De Fierlant, finishing sixth.
In 1971, given the few offers in Formula 1, Bell decided to devote himself for most of the time to the races of the Sport Prototype World Championship, alternating driving the Porsche and March in Formula 2, with the team of Frank Williams. The pairing with the German and British teams starts immediately on the right foot, as Derek wins the 1000km Buenos Aires, and climbs to the lowest step of the podium in Thruxton.
The British driver will not be as lucky in subsequent participations in the Argentine Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Daytona, as he will retire on both occasions, but will redeem himself later in Buenos Aires, finishing in sixth place with the Porsche 917, then third. at the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 1000 km of Brands Hatch, and second to the 1000km of Monza and Spa.
This series of races will prove to be very useful to Derek, to better prepare himself for participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Following the tests carried out in tandem with Siffert and Oliver, Bell is a candidate for the outsider role for the race, but still a technical problem will force him to retire, as in 1970.
The excellent performances of 1971 convince John Surtees to let him compete in the British Grand Prix: however, this time Derek is unable to repeat the feat made a few months earlier in America, since the TS9 is not as competitive as the TS7. and the British driver is penultimate in qualifying, while in the race he retires on lap 23 due to a broken suspension.
Things are completely different when he returns to drive the Porsche at the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, where he comes third, while in the 1000 km of Barcelona he is second, and at the 1000km of Paris he closes the season with another victory.
In the following months, the doors of Formula 1 seem to reopen for Bell, as Martini wants the British driver and Carlos Reutermann, but manager David Yorke, who had brought him to Porsche the year before, convinces him to accept the offer. Tecno, which in 1972 is in its first season in Formula 1.
Things are not going well already in the design phase: the PA123 takes to the track only a few days before Christmas, in Turin, and given the cold temperatures and the less-than-optimal track conditions, Bell is unable to give the right feedback to the engineers.
That delay will cost Tecno dearly, who will not be competitive at the start of the world championship, also because the team will not be able to keep up with developments, and the gap race after race will increase more and more.
Bell gets into the car for the first time during the Grand Prix raced in Germany, but retires on lap 25 with an engine problem, while at Monza he can't even qualify, and in the USA, at Watkins Glen circuit, once again a failure of the engine forces him to abandon the race during the eighth lap. This season will put an end to Bell's ambition to become a great Formula 1 driver:
"Tecno ended my career in Formula 1. Nothing ever worked with that car. The engine was Ferrari-derived and had reasonable power, but the car didn't have the sensitivity. We were a long way from the pace of the best. Each time I got into the car, the others got better and we didn't. We kept changing details. Besides, the engine was too heavy for that car, the pieces that tied it to the chassis broke. Every corner I made the situation got worse".
If in Formula 1 the performances are disappointing, with touring cars he is always the protagonist, even if he fails to have a continuity of results like the previous year. In 1973, Bell will return to devote himself completely to the World Sports Prototype Championship, but the Mirage M6, with which he will race most of the races, will not allow him to reach the finish line often.
Despite this, the first win of the season in Monza, together with the third place obtained at Spa with the Abarth, seem the best way to prepare for the new assault on the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The eighth time obtained in qualifying seems a good premise for the improvement of the result obtained the year before, in 1972, but an oil leak forced Derek and Ganley to retire after covering a distance of 163 laps.
However, Bell will redeem himself by finishing fifth at the 1000 km of Zelweg, fourth in the Six Hours of Watkins-Glen, a result also obtained at the Can-Am Mid-Ohio disputed with the Mclaren, and winning the 500 Km of Imola and the Trouphy Tourist, finishing then the season winning the second place at the Nine Hours of Kyalami.
Meanwhile, Derek also sporadically participates in some Formula 2 races with the Surtees team, finishing third at Hockenheim, and fourth at Nurbugring and Monza, finishing the championship in eighth place in the drivers' standings.
In 1974, Bell decides to continue driving with the Mirage, which changes its name, to Gulf Research Team, paired with Mike Hailwood. The new couple starts off strong: fourth in the 1000 km of Monza and Nurbugring, and second in the 1000 km of Spa.
The two British drivers arrive with high hopes at Le Mans, and after having obtained the fourth place in qualifying, they maintain this position in the race, reaching the finish line after completing 317 laps.
Following the good streak of results, John Surtees decides to give Bell a further opportunity to race in Formula 1 starting from the British Grand Prix, raced at Silverstone, giving him a wheel until the end of the World Championship: however, the only positive result, the British obtained it in Germany, where he is eleventh, while in England, Austria, Italy and Canada, he did not qualify.
Yet another unfortunate parenthesis in Formula 1 convinces Derek to abandon the World Championship. The British therefore decides to devote himself solely to racing with covered-wheeled cars, racing in tandem with Jacky Ickx the 1000 km of Le Castellet, aboard the GR7, with which he comes third, and the 1000 km of Brand Hatch, where he will climb again on the lowest step of the podium, then repeating himself in the Six Hours of Kyalami, paired with David Hobbs.
In 1975, Bell will lead the Gulf Research Team only at Le Mans, while the rest of the season he will compete driving for Alfa Romeo, paired with Henri Pescarolo. However, the two-time rivals of Formula 3 will take some time to find the feeling with the T33/TT/12: on their debut at the 1000 km of Mugello, the two will reach the finish line in fourth place, and the same result they will collect it at the 800 km of Djon.
Worse will go to Monza, where Bell and Pescarolo will be only eighteenth, but despite a not exciting start, the British driver has great confidence in the team, and in particular in engineer Carlo Chiti.
The turning point will take place at the beginning of May, in Belgium, when Derek wins the 1000 km of Spa, and comes second in the Florio Cup: with these two positive results, the British driver will attack the great seasonal goal, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with very high morale.
Already in qualifying, Derek begins to understand that there are possibilities not only to get on the podium, but to win. The Gr8 monopolizes the front row, with Bell and Ickx on pole, almost two seconds behind teammates Schuppan/Jaussaud.
Even in the race things seem to be going well, as long as the GR8 number 11, which is firmly in the lead, begins to suffer a technical problem, which once again seems to have to prevent Derek from realizing his dream of winning one of the most prestigious races. of the world.
But despite this further difficulty, in the final Bell and Ickx manage to keep one lap ahead of Lafosse-Chausseuil, and five over the other Gulf of Schuppan-Jaussaud, winning the coveted 24 Hours of Le Mans.
From now on, the season will continue positively for Bell, while returning to wearing the Alfa suit, given that at the 1000 km of Zeltweg, the six hours of Watkins Glen and Interserie-Kassel-Calden, the British driver will get three consecutive victories, to then encounter a slight drop and only get back on the podium in the last engagement of the year, at the 1000 km of Kyalami.
Despite the World Sportscar Championship he won, in 1976 Derek decided to concentrate all his efforts on Formula 1, supplying the engines to Bernie Ecclestone’s Brahbham and at the same time confirming the agreement with Mirage, competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans together.
Once again, having overcome the first disappointments, at the 1000 km of the Nurburgring, the British driver climbs on the podium after finishing third, before attempting an encore at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with Schoupan taking the place of Ickx, who has passed in the meantime to Porsche.
But already from the official tests, Derek realizes that he cannot have the same feeling that he had with the previous Mirage model, forcing him to settle for sixth place. Sensations confirmed in the race, given that the British driver will finish very far from former team mate Ickx and Van Lennep, and even from the podium, completed by GDC of Lafosse-Migault and by Lola of Craft/De Cadenet: Bell will reach the finish line only in fifth position.
With the fourth and third place in the Six Hours of Zeltweg and Monza, a second positive part of the 1976 season seems to open for Derek, and instead at the Tourist Trouphy he is forced to retire.
Precisely to redeem the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1977 the British driver changed teams and signed a contract with Renault, renewed his trust in Jaguar and Porsche, and returned to racing with Alfa Romeo: it was with the latter that Bell returned to victory at the Avus Interserie, while the following week he obtained the second success in a row in the 1000 km of the Nurbugring, aboard the Porsche.
Finding performance and confidence, Bell leaves for France with the aim of aiming for an encore at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Given the final result of qualifying, this feat seems possible, given Bell and Jabouille conquer pole, eight tenths of a second behind the other Renault of Laffite/Depallier, and one second and three tenths of Ickx and Pescarolo.
In the race, Bell and Jabouille are in command for seventeen hours, but Renault, which has been preparing for a long time to attack the French classic, runs into various mechanical anomalies, until during the two hundred and eighty-ninth lap also the A442 number 9 is forced to retire.
As in the previous year, the final races of the season will also be difficult for Bell. In the 1978 season, Derek will decide to sip his commitments, to devote himself to the development of Renault. However, especially at the beginning of the season, the British rider proves to be in great shape, finishing third at Mugello and winning the 1000 km of the Nurbugring.
But his efforts are not enough to be competitive at Le Mans, so much so that in the official tests, together with Jairier, he will pay a ten-second gap from the Porsche of the Ickx-Pescarolo couple, and in the race another technical problem will do so. leave the scene. To complete the insult, the British driver will have to witness the triumph of Pironi and Jaussaud, who lead the number 2 Renault to victory.
It will take three years before the second success in the French race becomes a reality.
In fact, the return to the Mirage will not be enough to repeat the winning performance of 1975: in 1979 Bell retires again, then moves to Porsche, but the following year does not go beyond the thirteenth position, collecting as the only satisfaction the victory in the 500 miles of the Road America.
Then, however, in view of the 1981 24 Hours of Le Mans, Porsche decides to recompose the Bell-Ickx couple, in order to return to the top step of the podium. The choice will prove to be right: the two will dominate the qualifications by taking pole, and after a conservative start to the race, Bell and Ickx will position themselves at the head of the race and will clearly win over their opponents, despite the fact that in the final Derek encounters a problem caused by a puncture of a tire.
A year passes, and Bell always hits the three of a kind with Ickx, taking pole again and inflicting respectively three and nineteen laps behind the other Porsche of Mass/Schuppan and Haywood/Hoben/Barth.
Also, in 1983 the duo seems to be heading towards another triumph, as they start for the third year in a row from pole, but in the first laps Ickx touches the other Porsche of Lammers. Despite the accumulated detachment, and the brake discs at the limit of wear, Derek will become the protagonist of a furious comeback, even managing to split from Holbert, who with an engine now at the end of his life, proceeds by a whisker to the finish line.
Bell will skip Le Mans in 1984, because Porsche will decide not to field their cars to protest the decision of the FIA, which recently changed the regulations to limit consumption. Nonetheless, the British driver will allow the German automaker to win in Monza, Ohio, Watkins Glen, Nurbugring, 500 miles America, Spa, Pocona, Daytona and Sandown.
Derek will return to compete in the race that has consecrated him the following year, but no longer paired with Ickx, but with Hans-Joachim Stuck. The choice seems to be right, given that the British and the German conquer the pole position, winning the duel with the Ickx / Mass couple. And instead, the two are mocked by Klaus Luwdig, Paolo Barilla and John Winter, who allow Joest Racing to prove that they did not win the previous year only for the absence of the official Porsche team: Bell must be content with the lowest step of the podium.
Derek will take revenge in 1986, always paired with Stuck, but with the addition of Holbert as a third member. While not hitting the pole, won by teammates Mass/Wollek/Schuppan, in the race, maintaining a frenzied pace, the trio bends the resistance of all the other Porsches, and Bell triumphs for the fourth time at Le Mans.
The five will arrive 365 days later, always together with Stock and Holbert, redeeming the insult of having seen the pole vanish for only forty thousandths of a second, taking the lead after the entry of a safety car, making the difference in the early hours of the morning, and managing without problems the large accumulated advantage.
To sanction the two seasons to be framed comes the double Le Mans/Daytona, always won with the Porsche 962 C both in 1986 and 1987, a feat that only a few drivers have succeeded in in the history of endurance races.
The following year, during the 1988 edition of the French classic, what happened four years earlier seems to repeat itself: the Bell-Stuck-Ludwig trio conquered pole, but on Sunday, due to an additional stop due to a pump problem of water, give the victory to the Jaguar of the trio Lammers, Dumfries and Wallace, despite some mechanical problems encountered in the transmission of the gearbox.
From 1989 onwards, Porsche will field only private teams, therefore Derek will no longer be able to repeat the results obtained in previous years, and will only have to settle for some good placements, but hitting the trio at the 24 Hours of Daytona: in 1994 the one who on paper it will represent his latest feat at Le Mans, Bell will compete with the Kremer Racing team, with which he will get a sixth place.
To convince him to rethink and abandon the idea of retirement will be McLaren, which will offer him the opportunity to be in the team with his son Justin and Andy Wallace: surprisingly, Derek will almost be able to achieve the greatest feat of his career at fifty-three. , given that from the thirteenth position from which car number 51 starts in qualifying, the British driver, thanks to the rain that falls on the circuit, is already in command after three hours, but at 11:30 pm he gives way to his son, who will remain little on the track.
"If you've never driven Les Mans at night, in the pouring rain, you have no idea what it can be like. The Mulsanne Straight is a quiet stretch, as long as there's no aquaplaning and the chicanes are well lit. But when you get out of the 'Arnage, and you shift into second, third, fourth, fifth gear towards the Porsche Curves, and at 165 mph in the dark you don't see where the track ends and the grass begins, you know that is the worst point".
"But you still have to keep the throttle on. Once, while we were leading, I passed the car to Justin around 11:30 am. It was pitch dark, and it was raining. I hadn't been in the motorhome for long when Justin arrived".
"What are you doing here? I asked him".
"He was wide-eyed. He said to me: Dad, I've never been so scared in my life.
"Dave Price saw Justin frightened, got him out of the car and had Andy Wallace drive. Justin was terribly ill, but he didn't have the experience that Andy and I had. I told him that if he had an accident it would be the team's fault".
When Derek gets back in the McLaren overnight, he shows everyone why he's a five-time Le Mans winner, and at 4:00 in the morning he's back in front of everyone.
“During the night I drove for two and a half hours in the rain, and by 4:00 we were in the lead again. I went out, Andy took over, but after an hour he came back, he couldn't concentrate. So I drove off. I drove a lot of hours in that race. I was 53, I was exhausted".
Sunday morning begins the great duel with JJ Letho:
"During the morning the track dried up, but JJ Letho couldn't gain a tenth of a second on me. It really felt like we were going to win. But with two and a half hours to go I started having trouble shifting gears. in the pits and I got out of the car".
On the eve of the race, McLaren had warned its customers that it would bring a final gearbox update to make sure it would make it to the finish line smoothly, but Harrods Match One Racing decided not to invest the money needed for the modification.
Bell thus sees the sixth victory at Le Mans fade, being overtaken by Letho and the Courage led by Wollek, Andretti and Helary, but managing to defend third place and get on the lowest step of the podium.
This disappointment convinces the British to try again in 1996, again with McLaren, without the presence of his son, who is replaced by Grouillard, but after a bad qualifying, closed in twenty-fourth place, the trio will manage to recover eighteen positions, and Bell will close his last 24 hours of Le Mans in sixth place.
In 1997, Derek will return to compete for Ferrari, finishing seventh in the 24 Hours of Daytona, a race that he will occasionally return to compete, even after a few years of stop, in 2000, 2003 and 2008, without obtaining good placings.
Bell was named Outstanding Order of the British Empire in 1986, and is currently commenting on Formula 1 Grand Prix for American TV ESPN. Although Derek has won five times at Le Mans, he considers the most beautiful victory of him to have been a Ferrari driver:
"Having competed with the biggest name in motor racing is the best memory of my career".