Updated: Aug 20, 2021
Text: Steve Tarrant
Photos: Steve Tarrant and Louis Monnier (ACO)
If it wasn't for a certain Dane, or a particular Belgian, it is entirely possible that Mister Le Mans could have been an Englishman! But while he is "only" third on the list of all time winners, Derek Bell's career remains one many others could only dream of.
Born in 1941, and now approaching his eightieth birthday in October, Derek Bell is using his experiences of racing and life to help and inspire not only the racers of today and tomorrow, but also the many volunteer officials who will be lining the track and also working behind the scenes. From attending meetings of the Chefs de Postes (post chiefs) to driving the course car leading the competitors on the formation track, he will have a list of duties to perform this week, and you can guarantee that ever present smile will be there for each and every one of them.
"I am extremely honoured to be invited to be Grand Marshal at the Worlds greatest race, having raced at Le Mans 26 times in 27 years plus spending many weeks whilst assisting on the Le Mans movie with Steve McQueen in 1970. I believe the best memory of my life was to lead the 1995 race with my son, Justin, and of course Andy Wallace in the Harrods McLaren and finish in 3rd position on Fathers Day; to stand on the podium with my son was truly unique. Le Mans has become my second home, its always a thrill to attend the event, having such a history there with so many great teammates."
His history with Le Mans started in 1970, driving for Ferrari, before he moved to join John Wyer’s outfit. His first success at Le Mans was in 1975 in the Gulf Racing Mirage GR8-Ford that he shared with Belgium's Jacky Ickx, which was to be the start of a wonderful relationship the pair would have over many years. Further joint successes occurred in works Porsche 936s in 1981 and 1982, and it was only after Ickx's retirement that a further partnership flourished, this time with Germany's Hans Stuck, which, together with third driver American Al Hobert, led to two further victories in 1986 and 1987 in the Porsche 962C.
Bell's already mentioned here Le Mans is like a second home to him: I can indeed confirm that, having attended an evening along with local race fans, held in the track's museum when the Blue and Orange exhibition was being staged.
For some two and a half hours, he told story after story about moments and events from his long career, and 100% in the French language only. Even the non-fluent French speakers present were able to get the gist of things, his flourishing arm movements accentuating what had happened out on the race track, and he totally captivated everyone present.
Derek follows an illustrious list of former drivers who have held the Grand Marshal's role since it was instigated for the 24 Hours by the Automobile Club De L'Ouest back in 2013. It's good to see this list of Le Mans royalty has just got lengthened,
Previous Grand Marshals
2013 Henri Pescarolo
2014 Allan McNish
2015 Tom Kristensen
2016 Alexander Wurz
2017 Mark Webber
2018 Jacky Ickx
2019 Hurley Haywood
2020 Emanuele Pirro