Five times Le Mans winning racing legend Derek Bell finally made his Ecurie Scalpel debut last weekend during the test session for the latest round of the Masters Series. Derek plans to race the Surtees TS9B F1 car at the Silverstone Classic event in late July and thought a test session might be a good idea as he hadn’t sat in the car since July 1971 when he drove the car in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone!

We had entered the car for Simon Diffey and therefore it seemed sensible to get Derek along for a seat fitting and some exploratory laps supervised by Rob Hall and the team from Hall and Hall. The weather was of course atrocious – as bad as Pau by all accounts – and so any flat out running was out of the question. Fine by me because at least the engine would be less stressed although on the other hand an unscheduled trip into the barriers was always on the cards.

Simon started the day off and soon settled into whatever rhythm the rain permitted on what was his first trip in the car. Adorned with the usual “Surgeons Choice” logo that seems to follow him around when driving the Scalpel cars he was soon raving about F1 power and thoroughbred performance – at least that’s what he said when I received the call in Pau. For Simon though the rest of the race weekend was less successful. He missed the first race on Sunday and the second race was abandoned after two laps in a downpour and several crashes. He hopes to put pen to paper before long and describe in more detail the events of the weekend.

Next up was Derek who’s first challenge was getting comfortable in the car. Well this remains a challenge because he found himself sitting too low in the car, which meant that he was trying to look out through the screen. This is exactly what happened to me at Donington and it is most unsettling. It can be fixed though and I am sure will be for the Silverstone event. He only did a few laps because of the conditions but soon had a list of comments as might be expected from one of the most successful racing drivers of his and any other generation. Why not simply read his verbatim comments:

“Seat requires changing some more for me, I sat low and with my Indy style helmet could not get visibility over the screen which gave me double vision.
Brakes...Pedal too long and too soft, requires bleeding.
Should check brake balance front to rear..... very light on steering and super nervous (or I was anyway) when at high speed shifting 4 to 5 gear car weaves all over the road. Similar under braking at speed you cannot be precise as car weaves too much.
Once in corner good under power....
Having not driven the car or similar for 30 years!!!! Would suggest rear toe in be checked.
Castor should be checked too.
Where do you get Setup information from??? Rather difficult after so many years!!!

Of course most of this is pretty heady stuff for a rank amateur like yours truly but I am sure Rob Hall knows what to do. I must ask him what it all means one day!! Having said that I can identify with some of the comments such as the weaving behaviour. I described the car as being large a big go-kart when I first drove it and maybe that is what he talking about. It is a bit darty and certainly keeps your attention. Of course I was never travelling at the speeds Derek achieved so it is a little hard to know. Indeed within three laps Derek took a second off Simon’s best time. As Stirling Moss says “you don’t forget how to drive just because you get old.”

I for one cannot argue with that!


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