Derek Bell talks about the new Bentley Continental GT, racing at the Goodwood Revival and the fantastic Circuit des Remparts
September passed by in a blur. After the always wonderful Salon Privé, I hotfooted it over to Germany for the Frankfurt Motor Show for the unveiling of the new Bentley Continental GT. I must admit to being biased here, having been involved in the development of it, but I think it’s bloody gorgeous. It’s a lovely looking car, and the interior is spectacular, so I expect it will be an even bigger success than the outgoing model.
To be honest, I didn’t get to see much of the show. I barely made it off the Bentley stand. Unbidden memories of my previous visit to the event did, however, flash back. That was back in 2001 when the Twin Towers were attacked. I will never forget watching the horror unfurl as everyone huddled around TVs and laptops trying to make sense of what they were seeing. Not that there was any sense to be found, of course.
After Frankfurt, it was back to Blighty for the Goodwood Revival Meeting. I have written often about how much I love this event, not least because this circuit is inextricably linked with my early career. My first race – my first win – occurred in West Sussex way back in 1964, after all. I have been involved, one way or the other, with the Revival for the past 20 years, and have bagged a few wins along the way, so it cannot come round quickly enough. Sadly, this year I wasn’t so fortunate. My outing in Marc Devis’s lovely Ferrari 250GT SWB in the Kinrara Trophy race didn’t go as well as we had hoped. The car suffered a few niggling handling problems, so we were way down the order by the time the chequered flag descended.
Given the appalling conditions in which most races were run over the three-day event, I was surprised that there weren’t more accidents. There were one or two oafish moments from some drivers, but not many. I don’t know of any competitor who doesn’t take this event seriously. They all want to win in front of a capacity audience, but I was impressed by the maturity of professional and amateur drivers alike. The vast majority managed to keep their cars on the black stuff amid the many lakes that appeared on track. Or at least they did when I was out there.
Driving standards came into focus as I descended on France a week later for the Circuit des Remparts meeting in Angoulême. This was my first visit to this delightful historic town and I was instantly captivated. This was as much due to its beauty as to the prospect of driving my good friend Martin Overington’s Blower Bentley. If there was the wrong tool for the job, it was this pre-war leviathan because it’s a tight and twisty circuit lined with walls. There’s no room for error, but I thoroughly enjoyed my laps in a car I have grown to love over the past few years.
I should also point out that Martin became a social media sensation in the run-up to the event by towing his Porsche 962 from London to Angoulême behind the Bentley! Not only that, another car from his collection made a surprise appearance: an MG Metro 6R4. Martin was kind enough to let me have a go, and what a machine! The car’s tyres were a little threadbare by the time I got my bum in it, but I had a blast sliding it around.
The races and demonstrations passed by without incident. That surprised me no end. I don’t mean to sound condescending by saying that, quite the opposite. I fully expected a few incidents but there were none.
Everyone drove quickly but they all respected their surroundings. I suppose there’s a lesson in there somewhere for other historic events, where egos seem sometimes to trump common sense.
The highlight of my time in Angoulême was being given the keys to the city. I had no prior warning that I was going to be honoured, and I was so surprised that I was momentarily lost for words. It meant a lot, believe me. The keys are beautiful, too, and have been engraved with my initials. I cannot wait to return to this event, and I encourage anyone reading this also to make the effort. It’s pretty special, believe me.
From France, it was back to the UK and a deliciously informal Porsche Owners’ Club ‘do’. It was a pleasure to meet so many enthusiasts, all of whom seemed to thoroughly enjoy each other’s company – just car guys and car girls talking about their Porsches. It’s easy to forget sometimes, amid the many highfalutin events, that grassroots get-togethers such as this are the foundations of the old-car movement. This was a good reminder. Now I just need to catch up on some sleep.