DEREK BELL: ALL MY PORSCHE RACES
Derek Bell and Richard Heseltine Published 2018 by Porter Press International, which supplied the review copy ISBN 978-1-907085-65-9 Review by Mark Holman
enthusiasts of a certain age may have seen Derek Bell racing a Ferrari and a Brabham in the Tasman Series days. Bell’s Formula 1 career never took off, for various reasons, but he was a stellar performer for many years in sports car / endurance racing, and most of his successes came in Porsches.
This beautifully produced book from Porter Press is based on the neat idea of having the man himself describe every Porsche race he ran in — that is, between 1971, when he raced in the mighty 917, and 2001, when he took part in the 24 Hours of Daytona on board a 911 GT3. Incidentally, Bell ranks Daytona as a more difficult day-and-night race than Le Mans.
Along the way, Bell and co-author Heseltine cover a total of 200 events all around the world, including the Sandown Park race in 1984 that I was lucky enough to attend: there’s a wonderful photo of Bell driving his 956 along a Melbourne street to the circuit! Speaking of illustrations, the book contains hundreds of superb photos, although I would have liked to see a few more that depicted some of the competing marques alongside his Porsches.
For much of the time, Bell was a Porsche works driver; his teammates included Jo Siffert, Jacky Ickx, and Hans Stuck Jr. Bell makes the point that guys such as Siffert tended to hog the practice periods, so he sometimes went into races having had little track time! I hadn’t realized how often he raced in the US, though, for a range of teams. It’s clear that he enjoyed many of the tracks there, such as Road America.
It certainly wasn’t all easy street, though. Some of Bell’s race comments are along the lines of ‘I should have stayed at home’. Sadly, he also lost friends, such as Stefan Bellof, in those far-more-dangerous days. Circuits such as Spa were lacking chicanes and many safety features, so could be very daunting in the fast Group C racers.
Porsche’s support varied somewhat, too. Bell speaks of his frustration with the factory’s policy of carrying out development work such as the PDK transmissions on the works cars, and of the abrupt decision in the mid 1980s to stop factory support for endurance racing. That had the result of varying Bell’s Porsche experiences — and therefore the cars pictured — because he drove for many other teams during the lengthy career of the 956 and 962 models. All of those races are included, along with Bell’s comments on teammates — he won more races with Al Holbert that anyone else — and team management, as well as the frustrations of the cars being gradually overtaken by competitors such as Jaguar and Nissan.
It’s very apparent that Bell views his Porsche experiences with considerable affection and appreciation; after all, he won 39 races with the marque, and had the chance of doing a small number of his later races with his son Justin.
With 276 large pages in landscape format, this is a superb book that is full of fascinating and honest insights from the man himself. If you want to treat yourself, order a copy direct from the publishers at £45 plus delivery and you will get one signed by Derek Bell. (Please tell them New Zealand Classic Car sent you!)