The Triple Crown: a forgotten triumph

Posted on | Author TommyB

Montoya won at Monaco and Indianapolis but hasn't raced at Le Mans
Montoya won at Monaco and Indianapolis but hasn't raced at Le Mans

Will anyone ever match Graham Hill’s incredible feat of winning the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours? Guest writer Tom Bellingham thinks not.

What is the greatest achievement in motor sport? Michael Schumacher’s seven world championships? Sebastien Loeb?s six world rally titles? Valentino Rossi?s nine championships on motorbikes?

They are all incredible records that may never be broken. But in my opinion one record eclipses all these, yet is often overlooked.

Three greats races

On June 11 1972, Graham Hill took the chequered flag to win the world?s most famous endurance race, the Le Mans 24 Hours. However, unlike any other racing driver before him, Hill had also won the Monaco Grand Prix, no fewer than five times, as well as the Indianapolis 500.

The motorsport world named this feat ??The triple crown?? and Hill?s achievement has never been matched.

Of course, back in Hill?s era the Formula 1 schedule wasn?t as hectic as today. Both the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours clash with F1 races this year.

Hill’s era was a time when many F1 drivers took part in the 500 mile race, including famous names like Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart. Despite this it was nearly 40 years before another driver joined Hill by winning the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix.

Indy racing went from strength to strength and in the early nineties was bigger than it had ever been with Nigel Mansell joining the series as the reigning Formula One world champion.

Mansell had come close to winning both the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500 but failed to win either despite claiming both the F1 and Indy Car titles. The series had gotten so popular the FIA even considered having oval races on the Formula 1 calendar.

In 1996 the US series split in two and, despite their recent reunification, open-wheel racing in America has never been the same since. The Indy 500 still brings in the crowds in the US but hardly gets a mention in the UK or Europe any more even if a local driver takes the victory.

Indy Car isn?t somewhere teams look at any more and it is unlikely any top Indy Car driver will be taken on by a competitive Formula 1 team in the present climate.

Despite not yet having won either of the famous races, Marco Andretti could yet join his grandfather, Mario Andretti, as a winner of two legs of the triple crown. He finished third in this year’s Indy 500 and famously almost won in his first attempt at the 500, being overtaken for the lead just metres before the line.

There’s a good chance the young Andretti could still go on to win the Indy 500 and this year he’s racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours, keeping the Andretti dynasty’s ties with the famous endurance race intact.

Montoya and Villeneuve

The last two competitive drivers to cross the Atlantic, Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya, won the Indy 500 and went on to have successful F1 careers.

Villeneuve won the F1 title just two years after he won the Indy 500. In 2008 Villeneuve competed in the 24 hours of Le Mans and finished second.

Juan Pablo Montoya is the only current driver who could realistically take the motorsport triple crown, with a win at the Indy 500 in 2000 and a win at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2004. Montoya has not shown any apparent interest in joining the famous 24 hour race, although he has enjoyed success in endurance racing, winning the 24 hours of Daytona.

It seems modern drivers have no desire to match Hill?s impressive record, with racers choosing to focus on dominating their chosen series.

Another triple crown features in endurance racing which includes the three famous races; 12 hours of Sebring, 24 hours of Daytona and the Le Mans 24 hours.

No such achievement exists in Formula One ask drivers which three F1 successes they would most enjoy and they’re likely to set their sights on winning the Monaco Grand Prix, their home race and the world championship. This feat was most recently achieved by Lewis Hamilton in 2008 and Fernando Alonso in 2006, though of course not every F1 driver has a home race.

Will Hill’s record ever be matched? The thought of one driver conquering the narrow streets of Monaco, the high speeds of Indianapolis and the gruelling length of the Le Mans 24 Hours may have a romantic appeal for fans but it seems few drivers share the same vision.

And that’s a great shame. Anyone who repeated Hill’s achievement today would rightly be hailed as one of the greatest racing drivers of them all.

Read more: F1 drivers in the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours

104 comments on “The Triple Crown: a forgotten triumph”

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  1. Is that someone holding up a big bottle of strawberry milkshake?

    1. It’s plain milk – as is traditional for the winner of the Indy 500.

    2. JPM, when he was a young and lean race driver… The bottle of milk is an Indy 500 tradition…

    3. Thanks :) You learn something new everyday.

      1. I look forward to the day that the Indy 500 winner is lactose intolerant…..

        1. Speaking a milk and Indy… at the 1993 Indy Emerson Fittipaldi drunk a bottle of orange juice as opposed to milk, much to the displeasure of the crowd. This was due to him owning orange plantations in Brazil.

        2. already happened, eddie cheever won in 1998 and he was lactose intolerant, they got him some lactose free milk so all was well

        3. I like Emmo, but that was a truly rude thing to do, and he has never been forgiven by the Indy crowd. Imagine violating a decades-long tradition in order to promote your business. What would happen if the Monaco winner brushed past the royalty to hold up some commercial advertisement?

          1. Drinking orange juice is significantly less obnoxious than advertising. Although I understand the sentiment

    4. Except when Emerson Fittipaldi won, and he drank a carafe of orange juice, which he makes on his plantation in Brazil. He was promptly stripped of his win and deported. Well, no, but that outcome would have been popular at the time.

  2. Graham Hill is my favourite all time driver. Amazing feat.
    You could argue Mark Webber could be 2/3rds of the way there if he wasn’t unfortunate enough to be in a death trap at his Le Mans appearance.

    1. Heck of an assumption that he would have won the thing though!

      1. Well that is why I said “could” … clearly the car wasn’t suitable for any kind of “road” race! Air race, maybe…

        1. Could this possibly be what you’re referring to?

          1. Was that Mark Webber?

          2. That was Peter Dumbreck. I haven’t seen Webber’s, but I assume it was the exact same thing.

          3. Yep, that was it.
            Actually this is Webber;

            No film of either of the 2 crashes he had seems to exist… probably good for Mark not to see it!

            This is the aftermath of the crash in practice.

          4. Yeah Webber’s second one was pretty similar but on the run down to Indianapolis, if memory serves.

            (Indianapolis being a corner at Le Mans, obviously. It’d take a hell of a lift off to get to Indiana from France!)

    2. Thanks Kate,

      I was a bit worried that the comments on this article would be like “Neh winning the F1 championship is more important”.

      Glad so many people agree what an amazing feat this is :)

      1. remember that f1 is not what it used to be. And people have started to realize it. I folllow f1 for 30 years, and to tell you the truth i consider moto gp more challenging. You cannot keep ripping off people for years, and expect they stay loyal. It will always come back to hunt you.

        1. Here here, F1 is dyin in front off our eyes, every year it becomes harder to show interest, every year a new rule emerges, every year a new excuse to persuade your friends it is a sport. I hope to eat my words as we enter a new golden age,but alas I willl probably eat my words.

  3. It’s a shame in one sense, but I think that it’s good that the triple crown is so exclusive, because it shows that while Schumacher, Rossi and Leob are masters of their Motorsport, Hill mastered these three different types of racing.

    I bet that Jim Clark would have won the triple crown if he hadn’t died aged 32, he’d won Indy 500, competed at Le Mans 3 times (finishing 3rd once). It’s a pity he suffered with so much un-reliability in Monaco – he was pole position 4 times I believe.

    1. Not to take anything away from Graham Hill’s brilliant achievement but he succeeded in different classes of road racing.
      Schumacher, Rossi & Loeb compete in three completely different sports. Engines and wheels maybe but that’s where the similarity ends.

  4. Even if F1 still had a Dutch GP, I still would choose a Le Mans/Indy/Monaco win over a home Gp/Monaco/Championship win. Yes, schumachers 7 titles are very impressive, and he could win Le Mans if he gave it a shot, but I dont see him going for Indy anymore.

    Its the diversity of the three that makes it (in my opinion) so legendary. All of them require different talents, so even if you never win anything again…winning these three would be a dream come true. Anything gained after that is a bonus.

    1. he could win Le Mans if he gave it a shot

      He did, in 1991 just before his F1 debut. He set fastest lap and finished fifth overall, sharing a car with Karl Wendlinger and Fritz Kreutzpointner.

      See: Michael Schumacher: the Mercedes years

  5. Superb article Tommy.

    I think anyone who wins the Triple Crown is a phenominal racer. I dont want to say “best” as we’d be here debating all day. There’s also something prestigious about all of those races too.

    It’s special as it shows that the racer can adapt to different series and environments, that it doesn’t matter what they’re driving they’re still good. We can’t really say Michael is the best racer driver ever, we can say he is the best F1 driver ever perhaps but we’ve never really seen him compete on other levels bar when he was coming into F1 and I think he raced at Le Mans.

    It’s also exciting to see our heroes tackle something enw and try to beat these records. It’s one of the reasons I’m so happy to see Kimi in the WRC this year.

    I think it will happen again as before Loeb no-one probably expected such dominance of the rallying world, before Hill no-one even knew the concept of a triple crown. If the dates aren’t changed then it’ll probably be achieved in different years either before/after a stint in Formula 1. The sad thing is I think we’ll be waiting a while as you rightly point out Tommy, eveyone just seems focussed on their own series and dominating that rather than just going out racing for the hell of it. It’s why I liked Hill, Surtees, Mansell and Nuvolari. Although I’ll be fair maybe some are only excited by their own series. I’d rather think that than PR days, dates clashing and even contracts (remember Kimi needing permission to do the Rally of Finland) were stopping them jumping from vehicle to vehicle.

  6. Absolutely with you on this one Keith I have a pair of those nostalgic rose-tinted spectacles as well! I think it’s things like this that in my mind still places people like Fangio and Clark ahead of Schumacher; there’s no doubting his greater success in F1 but it’s their shear versatility that continues to impress.

  7. I like it when drivers compete in different motorsport series, but in general they tend to specialise in one series now especially compared to the 1960s.

    I doubt anyone will match Hill’s achievement of Monaco, Indy 500 and Le Man just because I don’t think many drivers will compete in all three anymore. However we may see some other variants, for example Raikkonen may win some rallys and then compete in endurance racing, after retiring from bikes Rossi might go rallying full time.

    If I was a racing driver my dream career wouldn’t be about beating Schumachers F1 records, I would prefer to win championships in different series.

    1. so why don’t you become a race driver then ? you have nothing to lose , you know , except maybe all the races you enter.

  8. It’s not only the different skills but the different cars required. Look at Schumacher \ Rossi \ Loeb and they won titles with 2 main teams in the same sport.

    To win at the Triple crown you need 3 good teams and 3 good cars too, plus the skill to drive these 3 different cars.

    I am in awe of Graham Hill, it was a superb achievement. Ironically the one year that Jim Clark won the Indy 500 (1965) it meant he could not compete at the Monaco GP in the season dominating Lotus 33, that surely would have beaten Graham Hill in his BRM.

  9. Ever considered John Surtees.OBE
    He is the only man ever to win the F1 WDC and the MotoGP world championship.
    Two very different disciplines

  10. What about John Surtees.The only person to win world championships on 2 and 4 wheels.F1 world champion and 500cc world champion,and winning the isle of man senior TT.

  11. I really miss Juan Pablo Montoya he was a great entertainer on the race track.

    1. Yeap..totaly agree.

      Montoya is my all time favourite!! Hope he gets to Le Mans one day and wins it.

    2. That deer comment still cracks me up…

      “Oh deer…”

      1. Me too KNF. It wasn’t just the comment but him giggling away after and the fact his engineer or whoever tried to explain that a deer was a horse with horns…

        1. It’s the engineer that makes that so funny. There’s something about that little exchange that’s very F1…

  12. The days of the multi event drivers does seem to be well and truly over but it’s good to look back, thanks Tommy. Good writing.

  13. I think that winning F1, WRC and MotoGP would be a more awsome feat

    1. Valentino Rossi perhaps??

    2. yeah , well , Raikkonen could do it – dunno if he is into bikes though.

      1. Mark Hitchcock
        10th June 2010, 15:37

        He’s got two ridiculous custom bikes hasn’t he?

      2. He was interested in a Ducati test when he was still driving for Ferrari, too bad nothing came of that idea…

  14. Fantastic article.

    I’ve wondered about the possibility of Montoya claiming the ‘Triple Crown’ for a while now as well. I will be amazed if it happens and I fully agree that it could well be the greatest achievement you can accomplish in motorsport. The way I see it though, Montoya’s got the two hardest races of the three out of the way already… You never know.

    1. I agree, and after his win at the Daytona 24, Montoya seems a shoe in for a top-line Le Mans drive to me. Let’s start a campaign: get Montoya in a 908 for Le Mans 2011!!

  15. How many drivers have actually won F3, F3000 (F2/GP2) and F1 titles?

    Of course, some skipped the middle league so robbed themselves of the chance, but surely some must have managed this..?

    1. Didn’t Lewis achieve that?

      1. Yep, he did. 2005 : F3, 2006 : GP2; 2008 : F1

      2. Lewis strikes me as someone daring enough that when he is finished with F1 would try and win Le Mans, and maybe even give Indianapolis a shot. It would bring massive publicity and be a great spectacle.

        1. Same, during Indy 2007 he even wished they were racing at the oval.

    2. Surprisingly few.

      The intermediate category (i.e. Formula 2, Formula 3000 and GP2) has largely failed, producing only one F1 champion – Lewis Hamilton. If you look at the main FIA F2 series from 1967 to 1984 and the FIA International F3000 championship from 1985 to 2004, none of the champions of those series went on to win a title in F1.

      The old incarnation of F2 produced eight champions who went on to win races in F1, but no F1 champions – Jacky Ickyx, Jean Pierre Beltoise, Clay Regazzoni, Ronnie Peterson, Patrick Depailler, Jacques Laffite, Jean Pierre Jabouille and Rene Arnoux. Five of the eight are French, which may well be because Elf spent considerable sums of money backing young French drivers in the 1970s, helping to buy them an advantage in F2 that wasn’t then available when they graduated to F1.

      International F3000 produced three F1 race winners from its former champions – Jean Alesi, Olivier Panis and Juan Pablo Montoya.

      Formula 3, on the other hand, can count Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet Snr among its champions.

  16. Søren Kaae
    10th June 2010, 11:45

    Kimi could write history if he wins the WRC. The difference of driving rally cars and Formula 1 cars, looks to me greater than driving in Le Mans and F1.

  17. Thanks for pointing to this enormous acheevement, Hill was an outstanding driver.

    A shame nobody much seems to even wants to get a shot at it. I suppose Jack Villeneuve would like to do it, but he does not look like winning LeMans anymore. Montoya probably is not interested in it, but who knows maybe he still could do it.

    Schumacher might do some LeMans, if Mercedes would consider getting back into it, but winning the Indy GP is as close to it as he will get.
    The Andrettis are into it, the young Mansell guys might try, if they would be good enough. I am not counting out guys like Kovalainen or Bruno Senna/Chandhok having a go at LeMans, but none of them will make it in all three events.

    So if IndyCar gets back to a respectable level again and F1 attracts more successfull American based drivers, we might still have a chance somewhere in the future, but not anytime soon.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the article.

      It doesn’t seem like any F1 driver will move to Indy Car unless it’s retiring, which they tend now to favour DTM.

      It would be more likely someone would go from Indy to F1 but with Indy not being as popular as it was I guess teams don’t take them seriously and will look for someone at GP2 or Renault World Series.

      1. this is a really interesting discussion topic! because montoya came from a totally different generation of indycar drivers who used to drive cars with turbos and H-pattern gear boxes

        IndyCar is definitely not as strong/popular as it was in the 1990’s. I dont even think that the FIA would even consider giving an indy 500 winner a super license to drive in F1 especially if they wouldnt give one to Seb Loeb!

  18. What we’ve seen in recent decades is a driver proving himself at the Indy 500, moving up to F1 and then going to endurance after he is a bit past his prime. Villeneuve, for example.

    Not only do I think it is possible, I think it should be promoted. Just last week (?) I mentioned somewhere here a plan for a $20 million prize to anyone who could win the 500 and some NASCAR race the same day. A 3-way promotion by the three governing bodies for the Triple Crown could offer a similar giant prize.

    1. Sounds interesting, unfortunately Bernie is one of those people who would never let a good idea get in the way of self-interest…

  19. Great stuff Tommy. I’m afraid this achievement is now probably a relic of the past. I mean, compare the sort of drivers who win Le Mans and Indy these days to those who win the Monaco GP. Allan McNish, Dario Franchitti, Marc Gene, Stephane Sarrazin, Helio Castroneves…. these are drivers who couldn’t cut it in F1, or never made it in the first place.

    What I would love is if the F1 calender included races at Indy and Le Mans. OK, so it’s probably never going to happen, but we all want a bit of diversity of F1 circuits, and F1 cars racing along the Mulsanne straight and speeding around the Indy banking would be quite a spectacle

    1. What I would love is if the F1 calender included races at Indy and Le Mans. OK, so it’s probably never going to happen, but we all want a bit of diversity of F1 circuits, and F1 cars racing along the Mulsanne straight and speeding around the Indy banking would be quite a spectacle

      What a great idea Ned, but as you say never likely to happen.

      But if this did happen, what a rejuvenation of interest in both the Indy500 (and subsequently American motorsport) and Le Mans (and subsequently Sports car racing) it would bring. I could only see this being fantastic for all series involved, including F1.

      Thinking a bit deeper, the Indy race would be great if it was a mix of Indy/F1 cars, equalised of course. You can’t put F1 cars down the Mulsanne of course, but somehow the manufacturers and contracts would need to be somehow sorted out.

    2. I don’t know Ned, though most sports car racers are past F1 age, I think Dario, and a couple other of the Indy guys could have done, or could do quite well if given a shot at F1. It’s just a shame they will likely never get that call. What I would love to see is an F1 driver be ballsy enough to pull a Mansell and try racing in Indy once they retired from the F1 Circus. Someone like Rubens who is reportedly very good friends with Tony Kanaan. What do you think Keith, any chance we will see any of the current drivers take a shot at Indy someday?

  20. Jean Doublet
    10th June 2010, 12:49

    Jacques Villeneuve never won at Monaco and is now out of the Peugeot Le Mans Team.It will be hard for him to match Graham Hill’s feast. But wouldn’t the real “Triple Crown” be a F1 World Title, Le Mans and… the Monte Carlo rally ? Only Vic Elford would then have approached it with a Monte Carlo win and some very nice races at Le Mans though his F1 resumé is less stellar (but he finished 7th at Monaco in 1969). Only one driver now in activity could actually make it. Kimi Raikkonen. I wouldn’t be too suprised if he gives a shot at Le Mans in the coming years.

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