Derek Reginald Bell MBE (born 31 October 1941 in Pinner, Middlesex) is a British racing driver from England who was extremely successful in sportscar racing, winning Le Mans five times, the Daytona 24 three times and the World Sportscar Championship twice. He also raced in Formula One for the Ferrari, McLaren, Surtees and Tecno teams. He has been described by fellow racer Hans-Joachim Stuck as one of the most liked drivers of his generation.
Bell grew up on a farm and helped to run a caravan site near Pagham Harbour before being encouraged by his stepfather Bernard Hender to take up racing in 1964 with Lotus Seven. He graduated to Formula Three in the following year in a Lotus 31 and in 1966 switched to a Lotus 41 scoring his first victory at Goodwood. In 1967 he enjoyed seven wins. He entered Formula Two in a privateer Brabham BT23C fielded by his stepfather's Church Farm Racing team and had several promising performances, which caught Ferrari's eye and made his Grand Prix debut at Monza. In 1969 he raced at Silverstone with Ferrari and also raced the four-wheel-drive McLaren M9A in its only race in the British Grand Prix.
Derek Bell in the Wheatcroft Racing Brabham BT26 at the Nürburgring in 1970. Bell took part in the filming of Le Mans (1970) starring Steve McQueen, and he and his family lived with the McQueen family during the filming, the two becoming friends. Bell had a lucky escape during the making of the film. The Ferrari 512 he was driving suddenly caught fire whilst getting into position for a take. He managed to get out of the car just before it was engulfed in flames and suffered minor burns. The car was badly damaged but later rebuilt.
Bell also competed in the 1970 European Formula Two Championship driving a March. In 1972 he got the drive in the Tecno Formula One team, along with Nanni Galli. He later raced a number of times for the Surtees team, it was to be in sports car racing that he built a strong reputation as a world class and championship winning racer.
He won two World Sportscar Championship titles in 1985–86, the 24 Hours of Daytona three times in 1986–87 and 1989 and Le Mans five times in 1975, 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1987, mostly teamed with Jacky Ickx in one of the Porsche 936 and Porsche 956/Porsche 962 models. The Ickx/Bell partnership is considered as one of the most famous pairings in motorsport history.
Bell was hired as chairman for the failed Spectre R42 project between 1996 to its demise in 1997. In 2001 he was hired to consult for the Bentley Speed 8 programme, helping Bentley to win Le Mans two years later. He now splits his time between the United States and Bognor Regis, commentates on Formula One races and races in historic events, as well as performing a global ambassadorial role for Bentley. Bell is currently an operating partner of Bentley Naples in Naples, Florida.
His son, Justin Bell is also a racer. The two raced together in the 1991 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 1992 24 Hours of Le Mans. Bell was to race in the 2008 Daytona 24 hours with Justin, however the car dropped out of the race early and Derek did not get to run in the race. Aside from winning at Le Mans five time, his proudest moment was coming third with his son Justin racing the McLaren F1 GTR in the 1995 Le Mans.
Bell returned to Le Mans to race a Porsche 962 for the first time in 20 years in the Group C race at Le Mans on the morning on 16 June 2012.
Bell was awarded the MBE in 1986 for services to motorsport.