Five-time Le Mans winner Derek Bell made a return to the Circuit de la Sarthe during the 80th running of the 24-hour race, to take part in the Group C revival race – organised by Motor Racing Legends and held on the wet Saturday morning.
For the first time in 20 years, Derek was at the wheel of a Porsche 962 racing at Le Mans. ‘I’m enjoying being here in a Group C car again, Practice was hindered by a silly problem – the mirrors wouldn’t stay in place, and you do need them at 200mph around here. The car feels very good but this type of long-tail body, with very low downforce, isn’t ideal for the track as it is today.’
Following from a dry qualifying session, the front row was held by the two silver Mercedes-Benz racers of Gareth Evans and Bob Berridge, with Derek back on the tenth row of the 31-car field.
The race was held in heavy rain, and from the start Bob Berridge pulled away, with only the Lancia LC2 of Roger Wills able to stay in touch with the flying Berridge. As these two pulled out a massive lead on the first lap, chaos reigned further down the field. Several cars were involved in a spinning incident at the Ford chicane before the race even started and the grid order was greatly changed as the bulk of the field got up to speed on the main straight.
In less than half a lap, Derek Bell had climbed from 20th to 12th, now held behind the safety car for three laps – during which the rain continued to fall, and his windscreen wiper packed up.
Racing resumed on lap five and again Berridge pulled away rapidly, chased by Roger Wills in his Lancia. When the race finished, two laps later, the pair of them were almost a minute ahead of the third-placed Gareth Evans in the other Mercedes.
Meanwhile, Derek Bell had pressed on, obviously trying hard despite a severe lack of visibility, to finish 13th. Following the race, he said: ‘I’m staggered at how well the car went in the race, despite the long, low-downforce tail. I was able to catch cars up but overtaking was very difficult with such poor visibility. My car was a bit twitchy in places but those were the worst conditions I’ve ever known here. I did go off once, in the Dunlop chicane, because I just could not see where I was. But it was great to drive a Group C again and, yes, I really enjoyed it.’