The Triple Crown of Motorsport: What is it and will it ever be achieved again?
Written by Danny Jones, Edited by Morgan Holiday
The Triple Crown of Motorsport is regarded as one of the biggest achievements in sport worldwide, in fact, it is so hard to achieve that only one man has ever done it. Motorsport is full of various categories and series, from stock cars to motorbikes, to some of the best engineering genius the world has ever seen. And some particular series and races stick out from the rest. The Bathurst 1000, the Dakar Rally, the Daytona 24, the Daytona 500, but none come close to the three events which make up the triple crown.
The triple crown is made up of the three most iconic motor races in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. The 24 Hours of Le Mans has been held since 1923, and is the most iconic sports car race in the world, so big it is bigger than the series it is in, the World Endurance Championship. Three drivers take turns to hustle one car around the iconic Circuit de la Sarthe for 24 consecutive hours, whilst team personnel are always on standby to make sure the car is in pristine condition. The circuit itself is gruelling enough, only the Nurburgring Nordschleife is a longer circuit currently in use, which contains the iconic Mulsanne straight with a long complex of esses towards the end of the lap. What makes it so tough is the night stints, where drivers only have their small headlights to guide themselves through the blackness, and one small mistake means game over. Tom Kristensen has nine separate Le Mans wins, three clear of the next best, Jacky Ickx, and is regarded as the greatest sports car racer of all time.
The Monaco Grand Prix is the crown jewel of the F1 calendar. Although it regularly comes under criticism for its lack of overtaking opportunities or excitement, it takes nothing away from the accolade of the achievement. Held on the narrow Monte Carlo streets since 1929, the Monaco Grand Prix has drivers on edge all the time, with barriers either side of the driver, with one small mistake meaning certain disaster. It is also the one ‘the drivers want to win’ due to the prestige of Monaco, where celebrities like to play, and is the gem of the F1 season. Monaco is considered the toughest to win of the three, it is hard enough to enter F1, it is even harder to get into a team capable of winning such an event. Ayrton Senna is the most successful driver round the tricky Monaco streets, winning it six times, including in five consecutive seasons.
The final event that makes up the triple crown is the Indianapolis 500. The Indianapolis 500 is so big, that winning the race is a bigger accolade than winning the IndyCar series. The oval race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been held since 1911, and strangely was once part of the F1 World Championship. The Indianapolis 500 features the fastest cars in the world, capable of reaching up to 240mph, with drivers barely dipping below 225mph on their qualifying runs. They can do 2.5 miles in less than 38 seconds. The 500 mile event regularly lasts up to three hours, and with walls waiting to be collided with for 200 laps, it is a tough mental challenge for the drivers, particularly those fighting it out for the win with just ten laps to go. Helio Castroneves joined Rick Mears, Al Unser and AJ Foyt as the elusive four-time 500 winners in 2021. The question is, will the ‘spiderman’ be able to make history in the coming years?
How close have people gotten, and can it be achieved again?
The Triple Crown is prestigious for the variety of races needed to complete it. The toughest sports car race in the world, the toughest F1 race, and the toughest oval race on the planet. Famously, Graham Hill is the only man to have won all three, winning the Monaco Grand Prix in 1963, 1964, 1965, 1968 and 1969, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1972 and the Indianapolis 500 in 1966.
The closest man to ever challenge Graham Hill is Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006 and 2007, before winning Le Mans in 2018 and 2019. Alonso has been so invested in the triple crown, he sat out the Monaco Grand Prix to compete in the Indianapolis 500 in 2017, something a driver hadn’t done for over 30 years. And after his ‘retirement’ in Abu Dhabi 2018, some of the first words said over the radio to Alonso were: ‘Let’s go win the Triple Crown.’ Alonso came agonisingly close in 2017, leading 27 laps, and running in a good position with just 21 laps to go, before his Honda engine blew out. In 2019, he embarrassingly failed to qualify, being knocked out by the unfancied Kyle Kaiser, before a lackluster result in 2020. The question remains if Alonso will want to return to the Indy 500 after his second F1 spell. With Helio Castroneves winning it at 46 years old this year, maybe it gives hope for Alonso in the future.
Juan Pablo Montoya is the only other active driver to complete two of the Triple Crown, winning the Monaco Grand Prix in 2003 and the Indy 500 in 2000 and 2015. Montoya competed in Le Mans for the first time in 2015, but in the LMP2 class. Debatably Montoya has got a better chance than Alonso if he can secure an LMH drive, but with more manufacturers competing and his interest in the Triple Crown much lower than Alonso’s, he may never be able to fulfill it.
However, the Triple Crown looks even harder to complete now, and there is no guaranteed method to achieve it. A driver would have to progress up the junior categories successfully, and then be able to get into a team capable of winning a Grand Prix, and after all that win at Monaco. Most successful drivers used to be able to get their way into a winning Le Mans team, as there was such little competition, but with 8 manufacturers in the premier class in 2022, the Le Mans challenge will be harder. And with the Indy 500 always conflicting with F1 schedule, a driver is unlikely to be able to do so until their later careers, where they may face some of the best oval racers in the world.
However, the growing links between IndyCar and F1 give a hint of an opportunity to some. Andretti’s growing rumours of F1 give Colton Herta a potential shot, as Andretti would easily allow him to take a seat in both the Indy 500 and F1. However, it seems it would take a while for Andretti to be an F1 frontrunner. Herta has also said he would like to do Le Mans later down the line, something not many teams would deny such a talent of. Pato O’Ward was in the running to win his maiden Indy 500 crown with McLaren this year, and with a F1 test coming up in Abu Dhabi, O’Ward would have the potential get a F1 seat for the future, particularly if he could win the Indy 500 and IndyCar championship, according to Zak Brown.
The Triple Crown will always remain the most difficult thing to achieve in motorsports, maybe even in sports altogether. For one driver to be so successful in three varieties of cars takes some talent, and with it getting harder to achieve, we may never see a triple crown winner again, unless Alonso can miraculously win the Indy 500 after his second F1 stint. Time will tell if it can be done again.