Legends, journeymen and also-rans: the drivers who tackled the Triple Crown
Fernando Alonso and Juan Pablo Montoya are about to join 38 other drivers who have raced at all three legs of the Triple Crown.
According to the most common definition – and, if we’re honest, the only correct definition – the Triple Crown of Motorsport consists of three momentous races: the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500, and the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Something of a forgotten relic, it made a comeback in 2017 when Fernando Alonso, bored with his ill-performing McLaren-Honda, decided that it might be fun to match Graham Hill’s feat of winning all three events.
Hill is the only man in history to win all three legs of the Triple Crown. Pic: Sutton Images
A Monaco winner in 2006 and 2007, Alonso contested the Indy 500 last year and was competitive until his Honda engine rather predictably went pop. This year, he is attempting the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time.
Whether he wins the event or not, Alonso will achieve a milestone on 16 June by joining 38 other drivers who have started all three legs of the Triple Crown.
Alonso and Montoya have competed at Monaco and at Indy, and will soon share the track at Le Mans. Pic: Sutton Images
And he won’t be alone in doing so, with Juan Pablo Montoya – already a winner of both Monaco and Indy – also making his Le Mans bow this weekend to bring the total to 40.
So, who are the other members of this elite club?
The only man to begin with here is Graham Hill. He was Mr. Monaco, winning in the principality five times between 1963 and 1969. Hill added an Indy 500 win in 1966 and conquered Le Mans in 1972.
If you’re looking for the most experienced driver across the three great races, Mario Andretti tops the list with 43 starts – that’s 29 at the Indy 500, eight at Le Mans and six at Monaco.
Mario won Indy in 1969 and twice finished on the Le Mans podium. His best effort at Monaco was fifth, making for a very tidy Triple Crown record.
Andretti aboard a Lotus on the streets of Monte-Carlo. Name a more iconic trio. Pic: Sutton Images
You could say the same about Jackie Stewart, who won Monaco twice, was a Le Mans runner-up, and only lost victory at the 1966 Indy 500 to technical problems – handing the win to Hill.
Fellow Scotsman Jim Clark conquered the 500 in 1965. Most people are surprised when they learn that the Lotus legend never even stood on the podium at Monaco, though he was on pole there four times and plainly had the ability to win. He was also runner-up at Le Mans in 1960 with the wonderfully named Border Reivers team.
While the late Dan Gurney’s legacy is as an all-American racer, his biggest success came on French soil with victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1967. Gurney scored three successive Indy 500 podiums between 1968 and 1970 without managing the win, while his best Monaco finish was fifth in 1961.
Gurney on his way to fourth at Le Mans in 1964. Pic: Sutton Images
You could also point to Jack Brabham, a Monaco winner in 1959, though never a success by his high standards at Le Mans or Indy. Denny Hulme was driving for Brabham when he won Monaco in 1967, on his way to the world title. He was also runner-up at Le Mans in 1961 and twice finished fourth at Indy.
And, though much maligned for his late-career exploits, Jacques Villeneuve was an Indy 500 winner in 1995 and Le Mans runner-up in 2008. He was never at his best around the Monaco streets, though his best finish of fourth in 2003 is better than most drivers will ever manage.
While the likes of Hill, Andretti and Stewart were competitive at all three major events, it’s not always plain sailing when a legend rocks up.
In 1952, Alberto Ascari entered all three legs of the Triple Crown in a single year. While he won at Monaco, his Indy effort ended in a spin and he also failed to finish at Le Mans. Jochen Rindt took wins at Le Mans (1965) and Monaco (1970), but the Austrian ace never got along with Indy.
Rindt won Le Mans in 1965, alongside fellow Triple Crown racer Marsten Gregory. Pic: Sutton Images
Nigel Mansell was a star at Monaco and Indy without ever winning either, but his Le Mans 24 Hours career could not have been more different. He entered the 2010 race with sons Greg and Leo, but the old man crashed out after four laps – before either of his boys had the chance to get behind the wheel.
And while Nelson Piquet was never a fan of Monaco, he probably liked it more than Indianapolis. A horrendous crash in 1992 prevented him from qualifying for the 500, and it is to his credit that he even came back in 1993, albeit without much success.
The Triple Crown is associated with the best of the best. From Hill and Andretti to modern stars Alonso and Montoya, these drivers have won the sport’s biggest races and titles.
Drivers like Andretti and Stewart were successful in whatever they turned their hand to. Pic: Sutton Images
But contesting all three legs of the Triple Crown does not require a megastar C.V. Sometimes it merely requires competence, while others it just needs a little cash to grease the wheels.
The first man to complete all three legs was a star in his day, though his name has faded with time. Louis Chiron first ran at Le Mans in 1928, and at the Indy 500 and inaugural Monaco Grand Prix in 1929. He won the latter event in 1931 – the only Monegasque driver to do so.
Frenchman Rene Dreyfus also competed in all three big races, though he only qualified for two, scoring podiums at Monaco and Le Mans before World War II.
A French Jew, Dreyfus departed Europe for America when his country was occupied by the Nazis. He continued racing and, in 1940, attempted to qualify for the Indy 500. He actually failed to make the gird, but subsequently drove in the race as a relief driver.
Other early pioneers included Luigi Villoresi, Ronnie Bucknum, and Le Mans winner Marsten Gregory. Indy 500 winner Mark Donohue completed his set with a late-career switch to Formula 1, only to lose his life during the 1975 season; another American to complete all three legs, Peter Revson, had lost his life just a year before.
Donohue working the wheel at Indy in 1973. Pic: Sutton Images
In fact, the seventies and eighties saw a number of front-running drivers complete the trio, including Clay Regazzoni and 1982 Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan.
But this was also an era of struggling F1 drivers trying their hand elsewhere. Vern Schuppan’s grand prix career never took off, but he went on to win at Le Mans in 1983 and take a podium at the Speedway in 1981.
Vern Schuppan found his greatest success at Le Mans. Pic: Sutton Images
Schuppan was the blueprint for what was to come. During the eighties and nineties, a number of journeymen moved between insecure F1 seats and some successful runs at Indy and Le Mans. Michele Alboreto completed the treble by racing at the Speedway in 1996; Derek Daly ticked the final box at Le Mans in 1988; and for Roberto Moreno, Monaco was the last hurdle in 1989.
There were others of the same ilk: Teo Fabi, Eliseo Salazar, Eddie Cheever, Stefan Johansson, and Raul Boesel. The profile of drivers contesting all three legs had changed. Where once it was the stars, now it was the journeymen.
Cheever and Salazar both achieved success at Indy, with the former winning in 1998 and the latter taking third in 2000. Pic: Sutton Images
But by the end of the nineties there was less movement between the three series, with Indy in particular no longer attracting former grand prix drivers. Whereas the years 1993 through 1996 saw a new driver complete the set each season, the next addition was not until 2005 when Shinji Nakano – an unlikely candidate for racing immortality – made his first appearance at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Seen here in 2013, Nakano's most recent Le Mans appearance came in 2016. Pic: Sutton Images
Since then, drivers have been completing the set at a rate of almost one a year, with the likes of Sebastien Bourdais, Jean Alesi and Max Chilton all joining the club. Rubens Barrichello became the latest addition last year when he made his Le Mans debut.
Alonso and Montoya mark a shift back to the days of megastar running all three races, with the Spaniard in particular attracting huge interest. They will join an elite club on Saturday, earning a place in history alongside the likes of Hill, Andretti, Clark – and, of course, Shinji Nakano.