Goodwood Revival a special place for Le Mans hero Derek Bell

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Goodwood Revival a special place for Le Mans hero Derek Bell

He's driven for the biggest teams in some of the most revered cars at the greatest race tracks in the world but this weekend a circuit nestling in the shadows of the Sussex Downs will be making one racing legend very happy.

Derek Bell is one of nearly 150,000 making the annual pilgrimage to Sussex for the biggest historic race meeting in the world - the Goodwood Revival - and the five-time Le Mans winner will be joined by a wealth of famous racing names both young and old, including Jean Alesi, Tom Kristensen, John Surtees, Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart at the sold out event.

For many racing drivers such as Moss and Surtees, Goodwood is a familiar circuit from their racing days before the venue was forced to close in 1966 but it holds an even greater pull for Bell in spite of spending most of his time in Florida these days. He is a local lad, after all.

"Goodwood means a hell of a lot to me," he told AOL Cars as he prepared for the three-day event. "I live just a few miles away and when I was young and working on our farm, I used to hear all the F1 cars. I'd be out in the fields driving our tractor and trying to keep a straight furrow - the art of tractoring - while listening to the cars.

"I started going to races up there and then started marshalling in 1958. I remember my father took me to see the TT race where I even saw Stirling race. I was marshalling on the day he had his crash, it was terrible. He was Goodwood to me."

Still competing after nearly 50 years in motorsport, Bell is adamant that Goodwood is the reason he got the racing bug.

"Well, you know after years of watching I made my race debut there. Without Goodwood, I wouldn't have gone racing."

That debut came in 1964 at the wheel of a Lotus 7 in a race in the pouring rain where he came from fifth on the grid to take the chequered flag - without overtaking anyone.

"It was just so wet, the rain was coming down hard and once we started I didn't see the cars in front of me again - they just kept spinning off the track, so I won the race by just making sure I stayed in front of the guys behind me while the others ahead went off."

Goodwood Revival a special place for Le Mans hero Derek Bell

Derek Bell (left) and Jackie Ickx after winning the 1975 Le Mans 24 Hours

This year, Bell will be driving in two races, the TT celebration race and the St Mary's trophy, in a Chevrolet Corvette and a Ford Cortina GT respectively. Has he driven the Cortina before?

"I drove it a couple of years ago. It was fun but it didn't go terribly well. The guys at Throbnozzle Racing near Worthing who look after it are pretty confident we'll be ok this time though"

The 71-year-old Bell is a loyal supporter of Goodwood and has been to - and driven at - every one of the 15 meetings since its inauguration in 1998.

"And I'm sure I'll keep driving something there until I can't bloody see," he jokes.

"What's astonishing is that I always wanted to drive at my home circuit and then it closed in 1966, the year I went to Ferrari. I did have the lap record for a while. It's that atmosphere, the back drop to my life that makes me keep coming back. It's very weird, but it is my life and it's wonderful to see all these people come back and race round a track that hasn't changed in all these years.

"It will always be a great event."

Derek Bell - 10 quick questions

Best Le Mans victory
The first one because it was the first. I had no ambition to win it. It was such a surprise.

Best team-mate
Jackie Ickx. He just had something about him that everyone in the team respected. I wanted to be part of that team. He should have been F1 world champion.

Proudest motorsport moment
Finishing third at Le Mans in 1995 with my son, Justin - on Father's Day.

Most difficult win
Too difficult to remember!

Biggest motorsport hero
Stirling Moss

Current racing driver you admire most
I respect Tom Kristensen very much for what he has done at Le Mans but Lewis [Hamilton] has grown into my favourite driver, he has the rawest talent. I didn't think so at first but he's matured

Who's better - Vettel or Schumacher?
Better give Vettel another few years, I think. A lot of people don't rate Michael but he did an amazing job. The way he drove under all that pressure was amazing, the way he created a team around him - he brought a new level to F1.

Goodwood Revival or Goodwood Festival of Speed?
The Revival

The greatest 24 Hours: Le Mans or Daytona?
Le Mans

Florida sun or Sussex countryside?
Wherever my family is.