Derek Bell Car History: Porsche 917


Personally, the most successful racing car for me was the Porsche 962, which I drove to 21 victories between 1984 and 1987, including two wins at Le Mans and the Daytona 24 Hours, the Hockenheim and Monza 1000kms, and at Brands Hatch and Watkins Glen. It was a fabulous car but I have to admit it was really quite easy to drive. (It's all relative – Ed).

I say that having come through the ranks of F3, F2 and F1. The Porsche engineers, especially chief race engineer Norbert Singer, were so thorough, I had total confidence in the car, which felt safe, and so was always able to drive to the limit although I did roll one end over end at Sears Point in 1985!

Not so the 917 which was regarded as a bit of a death trap because you drove with your feet poking out way ahead of the front wheels. With lightweight body panels fitted I could hardly pull my foot off the throttle and get on the brakes as the panel distorted so much it trapped my toe.

But saying that the Porsche 917 was quite simply the fastest and most spectacular machine I have ever driven. It was the consummate racer of the period, which I drove to victory at the Buenos Aires and Paris 100km races. It moved about a bit on the circuit and the front end lifted out of corners, but it was exhilarating to drive.

Testing for the 1971 Le Mans, Singer asked me what revs I was pulling in the 917 down the Mulsanne Straight. I told him 8100rpm, which he said was a good thing because the engine would blow up at 8200rpm. That equated to 246 mph and we have never been quicker since!

Enjoy a video on the history of the Porsche 917 with Derek describing what it was like to drive flat out on the track.

First published by Octane magazine October 2008

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