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Friday favourite: The American duo behind a dramatic Le Mans finish

Al Holbert and Hurley Haywood each won the Le Mans 24 Hours three times, but it could easily have just been a brace for the pair had it not been for Holbert's efforts to bring their smouldering car home in a remarkable finish to the 1983 race. Haywood looks back on a driver he deems the "perfect team-mate" in our ongoing weekly series

It feels fitting that one three-time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours with Porsche should choose another as his all-time favourite team-mate, although Hurley Haywood and Al Holbert only won it together once.

By the time of the fabled 1983 race, when Holbert barely made the finish line with their iconic Rothmans-backed 956’s engine billowing smoke, Haywood already had a Le Mans victory to his name from 1977. Haywood went on to claim his third in 1994 after Holbert’s tragically early demise, in an aircraft accident in 1988 at the age of 41, whereas the orchestrator of Porsche's short-lived Indycar programme scored his trio of Le Mans wins in just four years. He followed up his 1983 triumph with victories in 1986 and 1987 alongside Derek Bell and Hans-Joachim Stuck.

Insight: Why Porsche’s Indycar effort was doomed to fail

“Porsche has always had a really good way of putting like-minded personalities together,” says Vietnam War veteran Haywood. “I believe it made their combinations very secure in their own right. Nobody needed to prove who’s faster, it’s all about working as a team. The goal was always to win as a team, not set the fastest lap.

“I really loved working with, and racing against, Al Holbert. He was my perfect team-mate.”

Haywood, now 74, first crossed paths with Holbert in the early 1970s in domestic sportscar racing in America.

“When I first met Al, he was a real hell-raiser,” he says. “He would go out, get drunk, he was crazy all the time. And then he met his wife, Joy, and became a born-again Christian.

“Driving against him was always really fun for me, because he never did anything to cause me to make a mistake, he wasn’t going to push you into the fence on purpose.”

Although they spent most of their time as rivals on the US racing scene, Haywood loved teaming up with Holbert when he got the chance. On their first time racing the same car, at the 1981 Sebring 12 Hours, it yielded a victory with their Bayside Disposal Racing 935. They also finished third together with Jurgen Barth at Le Mans in 1982.

Haywood cherished racing alongside Holbert in the 956 after they had been rivals on the domestic scene in the previous decade

Haywood cherished racing alongside Holbert in the 956 after they had been rivals on the domestic scene in the previous decade

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“Having him as a co-driver was really great, because he was mechanically on it, he knew how to make a car go faster,” Haywood says. “He and I had a very similar driving style, so everything worked together – he was a pleasure to be around. I loved his family, and it was such a great relationship.

“He never tried to prove that he was the fastest guy on the team. Everything was shared equally, so he wasn’t big on ego, the mission was always to get to the line first as a team. We shared that philosophy.”

That approach would prove vital as Holbert soothed their mortally wounded 956 over the line in 1983. As Haywood put it to Autosport in 2018: “If the car was going to break with anybody but Al, I would be really worried, but Al had a really good feel.

Archive: The greatest forgotten Le Mans finish 

“The car let you know when you had a sensitivity to it that something was going wrong. And Al sensed that, was able to have the fortitude to get the car into a lower gear as he approached the hairpin and hopped the clutch. Luckily it popped the piston loose and it was able to putter around - and I mean putter - to the start-finish line. We had a big enough lead so we could be cautious and not push it too hard there in that last half a lap. If there was anybody in the car to do that, it would be Al.”

"Al said, 'If you hire Hurley, he'll be the fastest guy on your team'. Bob says, 'Well, he won't be faster than I am,' and Al replied, 'Oh yes he will!'" Hurley Haywood

Haywood was forced to exit the Porsche fold after a vicious crash at Mosport in a 935, not long after that joyous Le Mans victory in 1983, that left him with a badly broken left leg. Although his chance of partnering Holbert – who subsequently turned to Derek Bell for his rich run of success with the 962 – was ruled out, Holbert proved crucial in getting Haywood a ride with the rival Jaguar XJR-5 programme.

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Haywood recalls: “After I broke my leg, I couldn’t drive the Porsche anymore, and [Jaguar GTP team owner/driver] Bob Tullius called up Al, as they were very close, and that was instrumental with me getting a ride with Jaguar. I just didn’t have to step on the clutch so hard with its Hewland gearbox.

“Al said, ‘If you hire Hurley, he’ll be the fastest guy on your team’. Bob says, ‘Well, he won’t be faster than I am,’ and Al replied, ‘Oh yes he will!’

“We just lost Al way too early. I’ll always remember winning Le Mans with him.”

Haywood (right) scored his second Le Mans victory in 1983 with Holbert (left) and Schuppan (middle)

Haywood (right) scored his second Le Mans victory in 1983 with Holbert (left) and Schuppan (middle)

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

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