The Triple Crown: a forgotten triumph

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

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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?

    • Tim said on 10th June 2010, 9:53

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

    • KNF said on 10th June 2010, 9:53

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

    • Thanks :) You learn something new everyday.

      • Hamish said on 10th June 2010, 12:21

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

        • Hamish said on 10th June 2010, 12:48

          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.

        • Kapow32 said on 10th June 2010, 15:08

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

        • GWbridge said on 10th June 2010, 16:08

          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?

          • cjpdk (@cjpdk) said on 1st March 2012, 17:08

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

    • DaveW said on 10th June 2010, 14:25

      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. KateDerby said on 10th June 2010, 9:43

    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.

  3. Chippie said on 10th June 2010, 9:47

    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.

    • pSynrg said on 10th June 2010, 19:18

      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.

  5. Steph90 (@steph90) said on 10th June 2010, 9:56

    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. PJA said on 10th June 2010, 10:04

    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.

    • Jean said on 10th June 2010, 14:52

      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. Chalky said on 10th June 2010, 10:10

    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. sportsman (@sportsman) said on 10th June 2010, 10:11

    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. tim said on 10th June 2010, 10:27

    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. wasiF1 said on 10th June 2010, 10:43

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

  12. KateDerby said on 10th June 2010, 11:01

    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. ErikF said on 10th June 2010, 11:07

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

  14. Magnificent Geoffrey (@magnificent-geoffrey) said on 10th June 2010, 11:12

    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.

    • Adam Tate said on 11th June 2010, 8:33

      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. Meander said on 10th June 2010, 11:15

    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..?

    • Tango said on 10th June 2010, 12:39

      Didn’t Lewis achieve that?

    • Tim said on 10th June 2010, 14:04

      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.

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