Triple Crown

September 30, 2008

There are other motor races, of course.  For the purist and the historian alike, however, the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans 24 Hours and Indianapolis 500 is likely to remain the holy grail for many years to come.  The oldest of these events – Indy – celebrates the 100th anniversary of its first race in 2011, whilst Le Mans and Monaco joined it in the racing pantheon in the 1920s.  For all the laps of all the races that have been since then, only one man has won all three events – Graham Hill.

The sad fact is, the era of racing drivers being found competing every weekend in different formulae all over the globe has now passed – at the very top level at least.  Even so, it’s testament to what a unique achievement Hill’s is that even at the height of the moonlighting of the 1960s – an era which saw European teams trying to demonstrate their technical superiority by entering Indianapolis, and an era which saw warring car manufacturers hiring the cream of the driving talent to help them beat each other at La Sarthe – that nobody else completed the slam.  Even some legends of the sport failed to win any of them, but mostly you will find at least one win in one of these three events in their CV.  Jim Clark and Mario Andretti, for example, can both offer a single Indianapolis 500 win, whilst Juan Manuel Fangio, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna only scored at Monaco.

By Lauda’s era, of course, the era of drivers trying to win disparate events all over the world was coming to an end.  These days, Formula 1 drivers are often cosseted to such an extent that their contracts explicitly forbid any such japes, the teams looking to protect their investments.  Le Mans has become the mainstay of sportscar and touring car specialists augmented by Formula 1 drivers the system has spat out.  Indy meanwhile has reverted to a insularity not dissimilar to the one which caused European teams to start making attempts on the title in the 1950s and 1960s.  The last Formula 1 World Champion to win at Le Mans was Graham Hill in 1972, whilst the last World Champion to win at Indy was Emerson Fittipaldi in 1993.

As you can see from the picture there, there are six other drivers lacking just one of the events in their permanent records.  Rindt, McLaren, Trintignant and Nuvolari are all now dead, so can be forgiven for not trying to amend this fact.  Foyt, meanwhile, is now 73 years of age.  Nuvolari and Foyt can also be commended for the breadth of their achievements elsewhere.  Foyt has a unique quadruple to his name just as weighty as Hill’s, winning Indianapolis and Daytona 500s, plus Daytona and Le Mans 24 Hour races.  Nuvolari, arguably the greatest racing driver of all, won both the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio twice.

It’s all down to Montoya, then.  Since he left Formula 1 in mid-2006, he’s been ploughing around in NASCAR.  It’s not particularly difficult to understand why, as he has a young family and the sport is very lucrative – much more lucrative, of course, than any romanticised feats which nerds and historians would get excited about.  It is also very much not the case to suggest that any one of the three events in question is “the easy one”, each demanding huge skill, dedication and commitment.

But, I can help but feel, well – it would be nice if he’d give it a go one day.

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