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. I would love to see a similar article about Mario Andretti. He did win another significant race, the Daytona 500 – giving him a Triple Crown worthy of a feature.

    While Wikipedia links, these two may be of interest.

    1. I honestly didn’t see your post! Great minds think alike! See below ;-)

      Re someone’s comment about how useless “stagger” is on a road course: “Lotus was then at a low point, having failed to produce a competitive car to replace 1970’s Lotus 72. Andretti’s ability at developing a racing car contributed to Lotus’ return to the front of the Formula One grid, culminating in lapping the field in his victory at the season ending race at the Mount Fuji circuit in Japan. Since mid-1975 Lotus had been developing the use of ground effect, shaping the underside of the car to generate downforce with little penalizing drag. For his part, Andretti worked at setting up his cars for the races, exploiting subtle differences in tire size (‘stagger’) and suspension set up (‘cross weighting’) on each side of the car to optimize it for each track, an approach imported from his extensive oval racing experience in the United States.”

  2. It may sound simplistic, but I still think that a truly great driver is great in whatever he drives. I’m thinking Mario Andretti, of course. Mario was the 1967 Daytona 500 winner, the 1978-1979 (IROC VI) International Race of Champions series champion, the 1978 Formula One World Champion, the 1974 USAC national DIRT track champion, 1972 24 Hours of Daytona winner, the three-time 12 Hours of Sebring winner (1967, 1970, 1972),and the four-time IndyCar champion (1965, 1966, 1969, 1984). Oh, and he finished second at Le Mans (first in class) in 1995 at the age of fifty-five. What if he had one that one? Now, really, who can compare?

  3. Whoops! Mario also won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1969. Sorry.

  4. “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”

    Erm, no. JPM won Monaco in 2003, it was Trulli in ’04.

  5. I asked Montoya at the Fontana Nascar race in late feb if he had any interest in Le Mans and he bluntly said “No”in classic Montoya syle. it was at a special garage Q and A in which we gave questions to a guy who asked the driver in front of about 20 of us. That wasn’t enough for me so I stood up and asked him to clarify. He said he hates endurance races. Hates waking up in the middle of the night for a shift. I then yelled out “why (24 hours of) Daytona?” He answered “ask Chip (Ganassi).

    We won’t be seeing Montoya try for the triple crown. He loves NASCAR.

    1. Thanks for this insight. It looks like he is thinking about racing along the same lines as Kimi. Why do things that are not as much fun, if you can enjoy yourself instead.

      I think it is a shame Williams lost him and who knows what made him fall out with Ron Dennis, he could have been right at the top.

      And the simple fact you were able to interact as close with the drivers show where F1 has a lot to improve!

      1. Amen to that! We need a bit of humanity in F1. Save us from Vettels and Schumachers and (the King of Cold) Kimi.

  6. Great post, thanks…

  7. did you forget the 15 championships on motorbikes by Giacomo Agostino?

  8. Mark Webber might be a chance at this now!

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