Few racing drivers of Derek Bell’s stature and success have been so unanimously liked. Typically, the top dogs have a deep-seated ruthlessness which leaves them divisive in the public eye, but not Bell. In this documentary on his efforts at the 1982 24 Hours of Le Mans, Bell and his peers explain why this affable Brit hasn’t shied from the spotlight, nor has he ever been refused it.
Part of his enduring presence can be attributed to his willingness to give thoughtful, considered answers to the questions, and part of it is due to his need to be recognized. Though undeniably polite and softly spoken, Bell has never been one to remain overly private—largely for financial reasons. The income of an endurance racer isn’t quite as staggering as one might imagine, but Bell’s been able to make a very comfortable living between racing, speaking events, and race team consulting.
His analytical nature and affable character have endeared him to many, including Jacky Ickx. The two speak highly of one another, and they both delve into detail how a team must preserve a car—even one as resilient as the 956—to win long-distance races. With five wins at Le Mans, three victories at Daytona, and two World Sportscar Championship titles to his name, it’s fair to say Bell can manage a sports prototype over long runs like few can. Not that he particularly liked it; with refreshing candor, Bell’s describes these day-long races as “purgatory.”
If anything, this documentary helps take the viewer back to a different time before motorsport, even at the highest level, was highly commercialized. The honesty of responses, humor, openness and technical insight, and the presence of grid girls is a snippet from a lighter, more welcoming era.