After getting seat time in a Daytona Prototype at the Daytona Test Days earlier this month, racing legend Derek Bell has now confirmed that he will race in this year's Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. The three-time winner will share the No. 12 RVO Motorsports Pontiac Riley with his son, Justin, as well as team owner Roger Schramm, Paul Dallenbach and Tonis Kasemets.
The five-time Le Mans winner and double World Sports Car champion last competed in the race in 2003, also co-driving with his son in a Derhaag Motorsports Corvette in the former GTS class. Qualifying saw Justin post the quickest time overall, beating the six DPs that were making their inaugural start. But the Corvette ended up starting seventh, due to a rule stating that all DPs had to grid at the head of the field. The two Bells teamed with Simon Gregg and Kenny Wilden to finish 30th overall that year.
This time around though may be Derek's last stab at the Rolex 24. There's no better way to end his famed auto racing career than at one of the most historic endurance races in the world, and also driving with his son at the same time.
"Obviously there comes a time when you simply cannot run at an international level forever, and while I will continue to drive in historic and classic race events, I can think of no better place to run my final race on the world stage, than at the Rolex 24 At Daytona where I have had much success and history," Derek Bell said.
Bell's first taste of driving a DP came at the Daytona earlier this month. He ventured out onto the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course during the Saturday night session but quickly had to adapt to the car's sequential gearbox.
"I felt like an old woman driving it!" he joked. "The last time I drove a sequential gearbox was when I drove here in 2003 with Gianpiero Moretti in the Ferrari 333 SP. The next day I got back in and got the gear shifting down and it was very enjoyable. It is a very easy car to drive. It can be nervous, the tail kicks out and that just makes you drive it a little more. The last time I was here I was the Grand Marshal of the race three years ago. It is great to run with my son Justin. We ran Le Mans together in '95 and we led the race for almost 14-hours."
Justin Bell, who will partner with Schramm in 12 Rolex Series races this season, is also pleased to be able to run with his father once again.
"It will be great to run with Dad again," Justin Bell said. "Roger and the team have done a lot of work on the car in the off season and our times were a definitely more competitive in the test. Dad's experience will be welcome with regard to the setup of the car as well as how we run the race. He has so many sports car miles under his belt that we would be foolish not tap into that experience and knowledge. And let's face it, how many people get to drive with their father at this level?"
RVO Motorsports has been a part-time competitor in the Rolex Series over the past years, with Justin Bell and Schramm usually behind the wheel. With some off-season upgrades to its Pontiac Riley, Schramm has high hopes for the season-opening race.
"Justin is a great driver in his right, but bring the two together and I think all three of our games will be raised," he said. "We have made some competitive upgrades to the car in the off season and our times showed that this weekend. We just need to keep the car on the track and on pace for 24 hours. Anything can happen here. With our driver lineup we definitely have the discipline and experience to make the right decisions."