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

  1. Søren Kaae said on 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.

  2. BasCB said on 10th June 2010, 11:55

    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.

    • 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.

      • Slim said on 10th June 2010, 23:23

        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!

  3. 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.

    • KNF said on 10th June 2010, 13:20

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

  4. Ned Flanders (@ned-flanders) said on 10th June 2010, 12:37

    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

    • Dougie (@f1droid) said on 10th June 2010, 13:30

      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.

    • Adam Tate said on 11th June 2010, 8:28

      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?

  5. Jean Doublet said on 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.

  6. Paige said on 10th June 2010, 13:22

    I think it can still be done, but the only ones capable will be F1 drivers from the start. A scenario I can envision would be an F1 driver winning Monaco, and then late in his career when he’s done with F1 racing, attempting Indy and Le Mans. The days of drivers attempting all three races in one season are over.

    • Adam Tate said on 11th June 2010, 8:34

      Though just imagine if one driver attempted them all in one season. Even if it were a spectacular failure, he would be a hero just for daring to attempt!

  7. Cacarella said on 10th June 2010, 13:28

    Great article Tommy – Thanks

  8. Icthyes said on 10th June 2010, 13:50

    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

    I’m not sure I agree to be honest. In the old days when Hill completed the Triple Crown, most drivers raced across different disciplines – indeed, many F1 drivers lost their lives outside of F1.

    But nowadays drivers mostly stick to one series. The most high-profile F1 driver who competed in Le Mans last year was…Sebastien Bourdais. And as great as winning the Indy 500 is, you don’t do it by beating a class of drivers as good as in F1 (particularly this season’s field!).

    I think it’s a shame that, with testing out, more top drivers don’t compete in one-off events, like Kubica in rallying. It would be great to see Hamilton, Alonso, etc. compete in Le Mans in top seats, partnering the best drivers of the Le Mans series. As for the Indy 500, it would be great to combine it with F1 again. Then I’d feel that the Triple Crown would be once more restored, because let’s face it, Montoya one of the greatest of all time?

    • Icthyes said on 10th June 2010, 13:53

      PS: great article nonetheless!

    • Adam Tate said on 11th June 2010, 8:36

      Maybe not one of the greatest of all time, but name more than a couple of his contemporaries in F1, sports cars and Indy who are better than he is and you’d have a very short list, name the ones more exciting to watch and that list would all but vanish.

  9. Steezy said on 10th June 2010, 13:55

    Indy 500 is different these days, spec cars and spec series. Not so much glamour associated with it at all.

    • Charles Carroll said on 10th June 2010, 16:32

      I do hope that they will correct this soon. It was quite fun to watch it in its prime.

  10. Charles Carroll said on 10th June 2010, 14:58

    I would love to see Montoya give it a shot.

    On a side note, I would also love to see F1 do at least one oval per year as well.

  11. Dean Yamasaki said on 10th June 2010, 14:59

    Here’s an interesting Wikipedia article on the Triple Crown of Motorsport.

  12. SoLiDG (@solidg) said on 10th June 2010, 15:18

    Don’t underestimate Montoya, he was a great driver in F1, overshadowed by the Ferrari dominace.
    He ruled champ car and won the Indy 500.
    And now he’s very fast at nascar, wich is a complete different way of driving, like it or not.
    He’s had bad luck this year tough, but he’s always a top contender.
    He could do another triple, monaco, indy and the coca cola 600. that would be a big feat too.

    • Adam Tate said on 11th June 2010, 8:39

      Well said! He reminds me of Mario Andretti in his versatility, fast in every type of car.

  13. Lustigson said on 10th June 2010, 15:27

    There are even only 6 drivers that have won just 2 of the 3 great races in the past 99 (!) years: Nuvolari, Trintignant, Foyt, McLaren, Rindt and Montoya.

  14. It’s an astonishing feat, coupled with the fact he won the F1 title too, nobody will ever win all four.

    Its my sole reason why I think Graham Hill is the greatest ever to grace our sport, wish more people would agree on that bit too, lol.

    Nice stuff Tom.

  15. One small note Tom, Montoya won the Monaco GP in 2003, Trulli won in 2004.

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