Meet the Driver – Simon Bell

Simon Bell
Simon Bell

At what age were you when you first got involved in motorsport?
I started when I was very small, my father used to rally many different cars and finished in 1979 in a yellow Mk2 Escort 1300 Sport. I spectated for years through the 80’s/90’s and then helped RNZ in the mid-90’s. My first “rally” car was purchased in 1999 after years of thrashing my road cars like rally cars, my old VR4 got a good work out in a regular basis on the back roads.

Who was your biggest influence in rallying when growing up?
I guess just all my mates that I used to watch the sport with, we always planned to “get a rally car” one day… so I did. My father helped me out with my first car for years… and without that help I would have really got any further than owning a car. Also the guys I have met through the SACC and in rallying, they have helped massively.

What was your very first rally car?
My first rally car was PZ52 – a white, very tired and shabby 1986 Subaru RX Turbo brought from some dodgy person in Christchurch. Not renown for a lot of go, and to be honest… it actually didn’t go very well when I bought it. Was sold “rally-ready” … but it was FAR from that when it arrived, actually it took 6mths to actually pass a WOF!!!! So lots of work was done to tidy it up. We must have blown upwards of 10 engines in that thing until we got it sorted. It was a good little car when I sold it, and it helped me learn the ropes and all about building a car and how engines work. I could get the engine out of the car an fully stripped in an hour towards the end, it was a personal race each time. The car had DENCO pistons and they lasted all the “blow-ups”, so must have been strong. The car still exists down Fielding way now… with a bigger engine.

What has been the most fun rally car you have owned?
My present car, the 1990 Subaru Legacy RS RA – I’ve had it since 2004. It’s a genuine RA shell and was brought in for the GM of Subaru, then stolen and built by Keith @ Jamex, then Dylan Turner had it for a few seasons, sold it to my cousin and Barry Sexton drove it for a few events. Then I managed to buy it from them. It is fun to drive but not overly competitive [or maybe that is me…hmmm], not that it worries me, as my rallying is more about fun that results. The best part about the car is the reliability, as Gary Capper has looked after the car since I’ve had it and it works well, and is reliable.

What is the ultimate special stage / rally for you?
I just love Motu – hate it when I drive it but it’s such a cool stage to do, such a challenge. Whakarau is another magic stage. Our stages in ROTN all great and looking fwd to getting back on the tarmac this year in Taranaki. But to be honest – as long as we aren’t repeating stages [my pet hate] and they are over 10km in length, I am as happy as pig in mud, I just love our sport and there is nothing like being in a rally car.

What is your rally highlight to date?
My highlight probably is the mates I have made over the years – there are some good bastards in this sport and they are nowgreat friends.

From a results perspective, probably our 4th o/a at ROTN a few years back, where Feathers bet us by 2sec – I will never live this down, Turner always reminds me of it. So close but I mis-judged a junction and that was our 2sec— gone.

What’s been your scariest moment in motorsport so far?
Our accident @ 2013 ROW was the first big accident of my career – I guess the worst part was we were passengers as the car broke a trailing arm… the car smacked head on into a bank and then rolled down a hill. It hurt, really hurt in places I didn’t know existed, and the family jewels took a really good hit too. The RallySafe gear measured a 13G impact so it was a good hit. But the support after that was AMAZING – from messages, to parts and help – unreal. That’s the best part of our sport, the community we have supports other competitors, it’s quite unique I reckon.

What vehicle format would you recommend for young drivers entering motorsport. Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive or 4 wheel drive and why?
I guess it depends on budget, but I reckon a 1989/90 Corolla GT with a 4AGE – some good suspension, standard engine and a lot of fun – the 4WD’s are fun too but you aren’t instantly Colin McRae when you own one. It was funny as I thought that… but man did I get a rude awakening.  I think a lot of young ones miss this “fun & cheap” aspect of the sport as they all try and start in a flame-popping 4WD, when a good 2wd car will be just as much fun.

What advice could you give an up-and-coming driver?
Do it on a budget, do it for fun. Make sure your car, no matter the budget is well presented and don’t try and be the next World Champ – rallying is as much about the friends you make as it is results. And lastly, never rally on a loan or mortgage.

In your opinion who was the best rally driver of all time and why?
That’s a mix – I’d say a few are my favourites, Hannu Mikkola / Walter Rhorl / Tommi Makkinen, but in saying that, Possum is right up there as he used to rally a legacy like mine [one of the reasons I like it], and hopefully we are about to see Hayden head up the list as the all-time great NZ driver. We have some great drivers in the NZRC too, who I think with the right funding could be world class.

Other than rally what other things / work are you involved in?
I road-cycle when time allows – I like the challenge of long distance cycling. I am just getting back into it after a year off, so the bike rules me at the moment and the lycra looks a bit tight, plus  I am really short on breath. Goal is to be fit enough to do Round Taupo again this year as the last time I did it was 2011.

I am also kept busy as I help run and plot the ROTN, I help Jill with the THRS, I’m involved a little with ROW and also one of the co-ordinators for the NZRC, plus some other rally things… so you could say rallying is part of my every day. Its exciting as the sport is going through some big changes and hopefully some will be for the good our sport.

What do you like to do to relax when not rallying?
Really – relax. Pretty much my relaxing time is with friends and family.

Do you have any other talents that would surprise people (are you a budding artist / musician etc)?
Nope – I am untalented in the car and out of it…

What’s your goal for 2014?
My goal is to do 4 -5 events this year if time allows and help to grow rallying in NZ through my association with RNZ / NZRC / THRS / ROTN.


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