Haywood Moves Down But Not Out Of The 24
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Hurley Haywood chose his words carefully last year when he talked about his future driving plans. He avoided absolutes. He deftly navigated around using terms like “retiring for good” and “this is it” the same way he has navigated decreasing-radius corners from Elkhart Lake to Le Mans for the past five decades.
So it was not a huge surprise when the man whom many consider the best sports car driver America has ever produced announced in December that he would be back in a car for the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.
During a telephone conversation on Wednesday, Haywood was quick to remind that his announced intentions of a year ago were more about scaling back than shutting down. He left the door open for a return more than just a bit.
And sure enough, Haywood will be back in the Rolex this year. And while he will be with the same team, he will be in a different car: The winner of five overall championships in the 24, he will drive a Porsche 911 GT3 GT car for the team with which he become so closely associated, Brumos Racing.
Indeed it was the decision by Brumos to switch from the big cars to the small ones which is putting Haywood back in North America’s most prestigious endurance race for a 39th time.
When he announced plans to retire after the 24 last year, Haywood said, “That was with the Daytona Prototype. We made the decision a couple of months ago to get back into GT racing. It was very tempting to get back and do a couple stints. A 911 just would not look right without ‘Haywood’ on the roof.
“So, I made the decision I would come back in a limited run. I’ve got three great guys driving
with me – Andrew Davis and Leh Keen are our drivers for the season and then Marc Lieb from the factory is coming to join us – so we’re backed up with a really strong driving crew and I’ll go out and have some fun.”
Do not confuse having fun in a 911 with racing as a hobbiest when it comes to Haywood in this year’s 24. A three-time winner of the 24-hour race at Le Mans (1977, 1983 and 1994) and a two time winner of the 12-hour race at Sebring (1973 and 1981), he will be going for nothing less than another Daytona victory.
“It’s business as usual,” Haywood said. “This is not a hobby for me. This is my profession. I’ve been doing it a long time. If I felt I was not up to speed, or being a handicap to Brumos, I wouldn’t do it. So, as long as I can be an asset to the team, I will do it. I’m going to let our three young guys do most of the work and just drive a couple of stints.”
Haywood said it makes no difference whatsoever that he is driving a GT car rather than one of the behemoth prototypes which he has piloted so many times at so many places for so many years.
“It’s just a different car,” he said.
“You know, I forgot how much I liked downforce (which prototypes have an abundance of) but every race car driver gets in a car and finds out where the limit is and drives to that limit. That’s the case with the 911. It’s fun. The times I’ve been in the car, I’ve had a good time. It’s not quite as, well, intense.
“But in reality, the GT field this year in Daytona is, as it has been in the past, quite competitive
and while the GT cars are not as fast, they are more on the edge, so to speak, not as secure a platform and it moves around a lot so there is a lot of work that you are doing. You don’t have the (G-force) load, but you’re still working pretty hard.”
Also not the same for Haywood this year will be his supporting cast. Co-drivers Darren Law and David Donohue have moved from Brumos over to drive a Porsche prototype for Action Express.
“I had an offer to drive with David and Darren,” Haywood said. “I didn’t want to go back into a DP car not in the Brumos colors and have a GT car running around out there in Brumos colors. It was a pretty easy decision that yes, I am probably giving up the chance to win the race overall, but certainly I could easily be on the podium in the GT car…if everything goes right. It just makes more sense for me.”
The decision to race a GT car also makes business sense for Haywood. He sells Porsche’s these days. 911s.
“It’s kind of exciting to be able to race what we sell,” the 62-year-old native of Chicago said. “And selling cars enables us to go racing.”
On the last Saturday of this month, Haywood will take to the Daytona track for the 39th time. He said the feeling will be much the same as when he took it for the first time.
“I always get a buzz” from the 24, he said. “Daytona is just a special place. I remember running through that tunnel back in 1969, the first time I ever came onto that race track. It’s the same thrill. It’s just a great place. The speedway has been great to me. The France family has been great to me.
“I’ve got six wins in the 24-hour race. Five overall and one class win and now I am going to try to add another class win. Seven. Seven sounds good.”
Do not count out eight.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment