“You’re in fifth gear; flat-out in fifth, for one whole minute. It’s quite a long time. And you had time to reflect, and you just look around and you’d look around the car, and you’d almost want to pat it and say ‘Come on, we can win this.’ It was the most uncanny feeling because you were at one with the machine, which you never felt it—to me—at any other track, because you didn’t get time to think about it.”
Before Tom Kristensen was dubbed “Mr. Le Mans,” Derek Bell was the rightful owner of that moniker. With three decades of experience at Le Mans, in some of the most impressive machines to ever grace the Circuit de la Sarthe, Bell remains the authority on the subject of endurance racing. He also has a romantic streak a wider than the circuits he drove on, and that helps him when he regales his listeners with stories about those great sportscars; the passion is so thick and palpable you could bottle it.
“I felt that the 962 was just idiot-proof,” he begins, “and you’d go out at the end of qualifying and give it absolute hell—and you had up to 750, 800 horsepower ultimately, with that engine. I mean it was fabulous—just fantastic!”
The passion flows out of the man by the bucketful, and with so many famous names, marques, and motor races he’s associated with, there’s no shortage of interesting stories. For a man with that sort of skill, humor, and bravery, it makes perfect sense he’s as good a raconteur as he is a driver.