Whenever Derek Bell appears in the Porsche Classic marquee he pulls a crowd – the five-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1975, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1987) and two-time World Sportscar Champion (1985 and 1986) numbers among the most prominent entrants at the AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix. Hold it? An entrant? Actually, the Briton in recent years has only been giving interviews and signing highly coveted autographs at the Nürburgring. This year, though, he is celebrating his premiere as a driver, taking the wheel himself for the first time at the major German classics racing event. On the occasion of Porsche’s 70th anniversary, in the field of the Gentlemen Drivers, he races a ‘Project 70’ Porsche 911 – obviously designated as car #70. In an interview, he reveals that he is going to present his book in Germany: ‘All My Porsche Races’ tells the story of an exceptionally successful period in the life of the British racing driver who was born in 1941.
???: You have been a guest here frequently, but this weekend you are a rookie in a manner of speaking, racing yourself at the AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix for the first time.
Derek Bell: “Yes, That’s right. I believe I’m even celebrating a multiple premiere. Of course, I’ve visited the Nürburgring with Porsche Classic on many occasions, but I’ve never actually raced here before. I will be racing in a 1965 Porsche 911 that I’ve never driven in a race either. Up to now, I’ve only had the opportunity to drive it in a parade – and that was a long time ago.”
???: The ‘Project 70’ Porsche is a car which the factory prepared with a lot of attention to detail. Even as a pro, wouldn’t driving such a special car make you feel a little bit nervous?
Derek Bell: “No, that’s something you shouldn’t think about. I have the great pleasure of driving many incredibly precious cars. A few weeks ago, for example, I had the opportunity to drive a 1929 Blower Bentley in a classics race. It was a car with a proud history that clinched sixth place at Le Mans at the time. And I drove it really fast. But I also always think: I’m the most valuable thing on board – and if I want to make sure not to hurt myself then why should the car suffer any damage?”
???: Driving these old cars must be a joy. What makes this so special?
Derek Bell: “I’ve been racing since 1964 – in other words for five and a half decades. At that time, the racing cars were still a lot simpler, so, in the end, driving old racing cars does not differ a lot from driving one of my early racing cars – even though I obviously didn’t drive any Porsches back then. So, technically speaking, the answer is: a car is a car, but there is a second aspect. Due to my history and my sheer age, I’ve driven quite a large number of classic cars, back then and today. I feel that being able to do so is a privilege. The owner of the car – be it Porsche themselves or a private citizen – is typically pleased about me driving the car. And it’s fun for the spectators as well: because they get to watch the car in motion, but also because of the mutual appreciation between the driver and the owner this represents, plus, because the car is driven by someone who may have driven it in the matching era as well. Perhaps this is the recipe for an event such as the AvD Oldtimer GrandPrix: that drivers, vehicle owners and visitors enjoy such aspects. Arguably, the most important thing is that it’s fun for me personally. Driving such a car is a real pleasure and I believe that this pleasure ultimately is transferred to the spectators as well. This weekend, at first glance, it may be a ‘simple’ 911 – but, after all, there’s a great history behind it which is communicated along with it.”
???: You are presenting a book here at the Nürburgring that has just been published. What is the book about?
Derek Bell: “About six weeks ago, we published the book ‘All My Porsche Races’ in the UK and I’m very happy about the really positive response to it. We’re already discussing a reprint, so it seems to be good. I drove 202 races with Porsche, winning 37 of them in my days in Group C.”