Le Mans Tales From The 1980s
Lammers & Bell

Regis Lefebure, in particular, loves these stories from the past – so with thanks to Jan Lammers and Derek Bell…. Oh, and this is just a pre-Derek Bell interview item: that interview will appear next week.

Do you remember, many moons ago, Andy Wallace spilling the beans on what happened to Jan Lammers during the final hour of the maiden Le Mans win for both of them – in 1988? It was a touch of Lammers magic that ensured that Jaguar win, the gearbox having actually failed…

A spare few minutes before the start of the Istanbul ‘1000 Kms’ was a chance to ask Jan about that incident…

“Raul Boesel had had a gearbox problem in one of the other cars, and that put that one out of the race.. so I knew there was the possibility of something going wrong with the gearbox… He changed from third to fourth, and it didn’t want to ‘go in’, and when he changed into fifth, there was nothing there….”

Boesel’s #3 XJR-9 (shared with John Watson and Henri Pescarolo) had retired just after midnight.

Anyway, Lammers had driven a huge proportion of the 1988 race in #2, and with the well documented problems for the Hans Stuck / Klaus Ludwig / Derek Bell Porsche 962 #17, Lammers had about a one lap lead as the last hour approached. He had already coped with a shower or two late on in the race.. but there was something more significant to come….

“I changed from third to fourth, and it didn’t feel right.. so intuition, or something, told me to leave the gearlever alone.

“I said to Kevin Lee, over the radio, ‘I have a little secret for you’….

“He replied that he ‘didn’t want to know’…

“I knew that the Porsche team would have been monitoring our radio, so I couldn’t say anything: basically I had to keep going, making it seem like I was just cruising to the finish… but that included a pitstop too…”

Which is exactly what Lammers did (cruise to the finish), leaving the Jaguar in fourth gear, leading the other team cars (numbers 22 and 21) across the line, then clambering onto the roof of the car, amidst some of the most joyous scenes ever at the end of the 24 Hours.

Eddie Hinckley confirmed what had happened to the winning car’s gearbox: the main shaft was actually in two pieces, and it just fell out of the ‘box when the backplate was taken off, back at TWR’s workshop.

It really was a touch of Lammers magic.

Of course had he tried to change gear, the history of Le Mans would have been very different, and Derek Bell would have had a sixth win…..

Bell and Lammers – their names coincided with another Le Mans story, this time from Derek Bell.

Derek was recounting the 1983 event at Le Mans – a race which had begun with Lammers and none other than Jacky Ickx having a moment together, at the end of the Mulsanne on lap 1.

“I was talking to Jan Lammers last year, and he described that incident: he said that there was no contact – “Jacky just outbraked himself.”

“Jacky had to wait for the whole field to go by, but by 6am, he and I had made up a whole lap on the field – and this was the fuel consumption era, and you didn’t dare use more than a certain amount of fuel per hour.”

The Ickx / Bell 956 then came to a complete halt at Mulsanne Corner, and Derek Bell had to turn mechanic to get the car going again, dropping them behind the (ultimately winning) Holbert / Haywood / Schuppan #3 956.

But that five-win Derek Bell record (which could so easily have been six, above) might almost have numbered seven – because Vern Schuppan lost all the water in the winning #3 car, in the dying moments of the race: “They were telling me over the radio that the water temperature had gone off the clock in the leading car – then the gauge dropped to zero, because there was no water left!

“I broke the lap record twice in the closing laps, and even on the last lap I was still going for it – although it was bloody dangerous, with the marshals all on the track, waving their flags.

“My father timed the gap between us as we both went through the Ford Chicane, and it was 26 seconds…..”

The official margin was 64 seconds, thanks to the (crowd) delays getting the #1 car to the finishing line….

More from Derek Bell next week: he could so easily have been a seven-times Le Mans winner, couldn’t he?

 

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