The Tour Auto (24-30 April 2017) stopped off at Le Mans this year for a special stage on the Bugatti circuit. Competitors included a legendary figure from the 24 Hours history books and others who have made their mark much more recently.
Derek Bell won Le Mans five times making him the most successful British driver in the race to date. His final triumph was exactly thirty years ago, in 1987. Now 75, Bell is taking part in the Tour Auto at the wheel of a Porsche 911 (#257) from 1974, the year in which he finished fourth in a Gulf-Mirage GR7 prototype with fellow Englishman Mike Hailwood. Fourteen of Bell’s 26 appearances – and four of his five wins – at the 24 Hours of Le Mans were with Porsche.
Driving an Alpine A110 “Berlinette” that ruled the rally world in 1973 are Philippe Sinault and Didier Calmels (#294), the owners of Signatech Alpine, one of the leading lights on the LMP2 grid today. After two European Le Mans Series titles in 2013 and 2014, the team followed up last year with class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Lapierre/Menezes/Richelmi on its way to claiming the FIA Endurance Trophies for LMP2 Teams and Drivers. Sinault’s first appearance in the Tour Auto comes just a week after the 6 Hours of Silverstone, the opening round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship season where, after leading by over a minute, Signatech Alpine (Lapierre/Menezes/Rao) finished fourth. The turnaround in fortunes occurred when the field bunched as a result of the safety car being forced into action following Toyota driver José María López’s crash. Despite this setback, Signatech Alpine will be one of the teams to beat at the 85th 24 Hours of Le Mans on 17–18 June.
Like all major international vintage racecar and classic sportscar events, the current Tour Auto is spotlighting Ferrari in the iconic Italian marque’s 70th anniversary year. The Ferrari contingent features a 1971 Dino 246 GT (#33) from the private collection of Guy Berryman, bassist with British rock band Coldplay, who is sharing the wheel with Australian Glenn Moule.
Photo: Five-time winner of the 24 Hours, Derek Bell had never driven a Porsche 911 at Le Mans before this year’s Tour Auto.