One of America’s foremost racing drivers, Al Holbert, was killed early in October at the age of 41, when his light aircraft crashed on take-off from an airport in Ohio.
Holbert will be remembered as a three-times winner at Le Mans and as the most successful driver in IMSA championship history, but his primary task in recent years was as the Motorsports Director of Porsche Cars North America, the man with the overall responsibility for getting the Stuttgart firm’s CART Indycar to the fore.
He was the son of Bob Holbert, himself a top sports-car driver in the 1950s and founder of a major Porsche dealership in Pennsylvania. Al started as a mechanic with Roger Penske’s team in 1971, worked on the 917 CanAm programme, and took advice from Mark Donohue in starting his own driving career.
Although he also drove in NASCAR and CART events, Holbert graduated quickly from Trans-Am to claim IMSA GT titles outright in 1975 and 1976, and again in 1983, 1985 and 1986. Altogether he took part in 137 IMSA races and won 49, usually in Porsches.
Holbert won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1983 in a works Porsche with Hurley Haywood and Derek Bell and Hans Stuck. He also won the Daytona 24 Hours in 1986 and 1987 with Bell, in his own Porsche, and his last race was in this year’s event.
Derek Bell said of him in his recent biography: “He is a very quiet, deeply religious man . . . Outside my time with factory Porsches, I can honestly say that I’ve never raced for a better, more efficient organisation. Al is as straight as a die, totally honest, and we have never had a written contract between us.” MLC