The Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours: in the opinion of almost everyone, the three most important motor races in the world. To win all three is the ultimate Triple Crown, an official and informal recognition that is attributed to those who win the three most important events in their own particular sport. Only one driver, England’s Graham Hill has managed this feat, winning Indianapolis in 1966, Le Mans in 1972 and Monaco no fewer than five times (1963, 1964, 1965, 1968 and 1969.)
Today, as has often been the case, two of these races, the ones for single-seaters, are taking place on the same day. The race on the streets of the Principality celebrates its 74th edition, 63 of them counting towards the Formula 1 World Championship, while the 500 Miles sees a hundred candles on its birthday cake, a landmark to which not many other sports events can lay claim.
While Hill is the only driver to have achieved the Triple Crown, the only other driver to have won both races being run today, 29thMay, is Juan Pablo Montoya. The Colombian was victorious in Monaco in 2003 and won Indianapolis in 2000, his rookie year and again last year, thus establishing a record for the longest gap between wins at the circuit known as the Brickyard, which still features a yard wide strip of bricks across the start-finish line.
“The Monaco Grand Prix is special, but if you look at past races you can learn how to tackle it,” Montoya told Sportweek, the weekly supplement of Italian daily, Gazzetta dello Sport in an interview published yesterday. “It’s hard to understand and get a clear picture of what Indianapolis is really about, therefore many turn up and think it’s easy. But they risk getting into trouble because at first hand it’s a different story.”
Montoya would need to win Le Mans to equal Graham Hill’s achievement: “Five years ago, it didn’t bother me, but maybe today, if I got the chance to race in the 24 Hours in the right car I’d think about it,” the Colombian had said at the 2015 FIA Sport Conference in Mexico City. A few months later, on 22nd November last, he got the chance to try the right sort of car, when he drove a Porsche in the WEC Rookie Test at Bahrain’s Sakhir circuit. Did it spark an interest in tackling the French classic at some point? “Maybe yes, maybe no, there’s no hurry to make up my mind,” he told Sportweek. “It was the chance to have a go and have fun and that’s how I approached it. But as long as the Penske team wants me, I’ll stay here.” And today, Montoya lines up on the sixth row of the grid at Indianapolis, trying for a hat trick of wins in the “race of the century.”
While only two drivers have won both these races, more have managed to pull off what, on paper, would seem a harder task, namely winning the race in the States and taking the Formula 1 World Championship crown. Apart from Graham Hill, fellow Brit Jim Clark managed it, as did Brazil’s Emerson Fittipaldi, the Italo-American Mario Andretti and Canada’s Jacques Villeneuve.
From 1950 to 1960, the Indy 500 was part of the Formula 1 World Championship, but, over that period, not many drivers took part in the American race as well as the World Championship Grands Prix. Alberto Ascari did it in 1952, the year he won the first of his two Formula 1 titles, starting from 19th on the grid for the 500 in his Ferrari 375 Indy. But he was forced to retire after 40 laps, because of a rear hub problem, when he was fighting for a top ten place.
When it comes to Indy racers trying their hand at Formula 1, Troy Ruttman who won the 500 mile race in which Ascari took part, tackled the 1958 French Grand Prix at the wheel of a Maserati entered by Scuderia Centro Sud. He qualified 18th and finished tenth. To this day, Ruttman holds the record for the youngest Indy 500 winner, at the age of 22 years, 2 months and 19 days. In 1959, another famous track, Sebring, hosted the first USA Grand Prix to count for the Formula 1 World Championship. That year’s Indy 500 winner, Rodger Ward qualified 19th and last at the wheel of a Kurtis Kraft Midget, powered by an Offenhauser 2.5 L4. Like Ascari seven years earlier, the American failed to finish, in his case because of a clutch problem.