While an unofficial title, the three most prestigious races in the world of motorsport put together form the three pillars of what is widely known as the Triple Crown.
The end of May and early June see all three races take place in relatively quick succession too, two of which on the same day on most years, and while most drivers would give their all to win just one of these iconic events, a very select few have spanned different disciplines and won two, and just one driver has won all three.
With this year’s editions of the Triple Crown races fast approaching, let’s take a look at which races form it, some of the important history behind the races and more.
First held: 1911
Location: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, United States
Most successful drivers: Helio Castroneves, AJ Foyt, Rick Mears, Al Unser (4 wins each)
Current series: IndyCar
To America first of all, with the world-famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosting what organisers call “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. So confident they are in that claim, IndyCar have even copyrighted the phrase.
Since 1911, fans have flocked to the Brickyard for the annual 500-mile race – nicknamed as such as the track was paved over with bricks around that time, and one yard of the finish line is still brick-paved to this day.
The mathematics are simple at IMS. Four turns at the iconic oval, which measures exactly 2.5 miles long, leading to 200 laps of racing – but the tactics, drafting, bravery and sheer speed involved make it gripping viewing every year.
It’s evolved into the blue riband event on the IndyCar calendar in the modern day, awarding double points in the championship for the race, and preparations begin weeks in advance for the drivers as they get their eyes in around one of the most daunting circuits in racing.
Taking place on Memorial Day weekend at the end of May, tradition stated that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was made available for practice no later than the beginning of the month, leaving a long lead-up time for drivers and teams to prepare, so anyone hearing the phrase “Month of May” in IndyCar circles means they are more than likely to be hearing a conversation about the 500 in some form.
In other pre-race traditions, qualifying takes place on Saturday and Sunday the weekend before the race, and with the field for the race limited to 33, any entries received above that number will mean “Bump Day” will be a part of qualifying.
This means that, not only will the fastest drivers be looking to qualify near the front, but the slowest drivers from Saturday’s session will be forced to fight it out on Sunday to even make it onto the grid at all – and the slowest will be “bumped” out and not allowed to enter the following weekend.
On race day itself, the playing of America’s national anthem is also followed by 1917 song Back Home Again in Indiana by Ballard MacDonald and James F. Hanley as a nod to where the race takes place, before the action officially gets underway.
Once the gripping action is over and the winner is decided, rather than spraying champagne, the winning driver is instead presented with a bottle of milk – a tradition which dates back to 1936 winner Louis Meyer requesting a bottle of buttermilk after taking victory, along with milk companies’ latter sponsorship of the race giving them product visibility in Victory Lane, leading to a combination of a heart-warming story meeting a marketing opportunity.
Finally, inspired by Brickyard 400 winner Dale Jarrett’s first instance of doing so at the same track in 1996, the winner of the race and their crew usually opt to take to the track again, get on all fours to kiss the bricks on the finish line as part of their celebrations.
But among the pomp and pageantry surrounding the race, the intensity of the racing itself is right up there with anything in the world – with drivers hitting top speeds beyond 230mph in qualifying trim and going toe-to-toe in close quarters for almost three hours of racing, making the Indy 500 a demanding mental and physical test.
Monaco Grand Prix
First held: 1929
Location: Circuit de Monte-Carlo, Monaco
Most successful driver: Ayrton Senna (6 wins)
Current series: Formula 1
The jewel in Formula 1’s crown, the Monaco Grand Prix has taken place around the streets of the Principality for almost a century, and winning this race is often proof that a driver has mastered one of the toughest tests in Grand Prix racing.
From the iconic corners to the tight walls in which they reside, sandwiched within the tiny nation state is arguably Formula 1’s hardest circuit to master, but it would be remiss to say heading to Monaco is solely about the racing.
Situated in one of the most stunning locations in Europe, Monaco is also one of the wealthiest nations in the world, with a host of Formula 1 drivers from across the generations having lived there in the past, and many of the current grid doing so today.
The glamour of the events surrounding the weekend and the bringing together of some of the world’s most influential people year after year marks it out as one of the key events on the Formula 1 calendar, along with it being one of the trickiest races to navigate from a driving perspective.
Such is the demand on the drivers in the race, it is the only race on the Formula 1 calendar which does not run to the full 300km-plus-one-lap specification, with its 78 laps instead stretching to around 260km.
Criticism of the race has grown in recent years, however, with Formula 1 cars having continuously grown in size and weight over time and the constraints of Monaco’s streets remaining the same, making overtaking an even harder proposition with every passing year.
But for the drivers, calling themselves a winner at Monaco is a privilege like few other tracks in Formula 1, such is the place it holds in the pantheon of the sport’s history.
24 Hours of Le Mans
First held: 1923
Location: Circuit de la Sarthe, France
Most successful driver: Tom Kristensen (9 wins)
Current series: World Endurance Championship
The pinnacle of endurance racing sees teams tested in a different way to the previous Triple Crown races – instead of running over a set number of laps, it is a test of who can go the furthest in 24 hours.
Le Mans celebrates its centenary running in 2023 and counts itself as the world’s oldest active endurance race, with the 13.626km [8.47mi] Circuit de la Sarthe and its 38 corners playing host to cars running in multiple different classes, with around 180 drivers taking part every year.
The three-person teams share one car to split driving duties across the continuous 24-hour race, which combines day and night driving skills as drivers constantly have to pick their way through lapped traffic in quicker cars, or be on guard to ensure they do not collide with passers while in slower machinery.
The earlier decades of the race saw the teams use two-driver teams and even drivers who looked to complete the race solo to save time on pit stops, but the practice was banned over understandable safety concerns and three drivers has been the norm since the 1980s.
The record distance covered at Le Mans from 2010 saw the winning Audi crew of Mike Rockenfeller, Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas take in 397 laps of the track – or what works out as more than six-and-a-half Indy 500 distances and 18 times a standard Formula 1 race.
Like the Indy 500, Le Mans has its own traditions, one of which was known as the ‘Le Mans Start’, where the cars would be lined up on one side of the grid and the drivers stood on the other.
When the flag dropped to begin the race, the drivers had to run to their cars, start their engines and get going as quickly as possible, though there were safety issues flagged with this practice and it was outlawed in 1970, with a formation lap instead now bringing the field around to a rolling start – which is signalled by the waving of the French flag.
Where there is the race for overall victory, with such large differences in speed between the classes of cars, the field is also split into each individual car classification – with several different winner’s ceremonies taking place for class and overall wins at the end of the race.
This race is the ultimate test of speed, endurance, reliability and resolve as drivers often go through a multitude of weather conditions – with some parts of the circuit even having varying conditions to others, such is the size of it – and determination is key to even make it to the finish, let alone win.
Which driver has won all three races in the Triple Crown?
Dubbed “Mr Monaco” in his Formula 1 days for winning around the streets of the Principality five times in seven years, Hill was undoubtedly one of the greats of F1 in his career.
A two-time World Champion, having taken the title in 1962 and 1968, the Briton rarely kept Formula 1 as his sole focus throughout his career, racing in multiple different series throughout the year around the F1 calendar.
And in 1966, Hill would take victory at the Indy 500 after starting 17th on the grid, following an eventful race which saw 11 of the 33 drivers eliminated in a huge accident on the first lap.
There had been confusion at the finish surrounding whether or not 1965 Indy 500 winner and fellow F1 World Champion Jim Clark, who officially finished second in the race, had actually finished ahead of Hill, with his team claiming his lap count had been miscounted during the race – though no official appeal against the result was ever taken.
But after nine previous entries to Le Mans and a best finish of 2nd in 1964, Hill would take to the top step in 1972 in the ultimate test of motorsport endurance – taking victory alongside Henri Pescarolo and becoming the first driver to complete motorsport’s Triple Crown.
He is still the only person in history to have won all three of these iconic races.
There is an alternative version of the Triple Crown in which people count the F1 World Championship as a leg of it instead of the Monaco Grand Prix – but even if that was the accepted version instead, Hill is still the only driver to have taken all three top honours.
Have any drivers won two of the three Triple Crown races?
Yes, but very few.
Here is who has come closest to the Triple Crown:
- Tazio Nuvolari, Italy – Monaco (1932), Le Mans (1933)
- Maurice Trintignant, France – Monaco (1953, 1958), Le Mans (1954)
- AJ Foyt, USA – Le Mans (1967), Indianapolis (1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977)
- Bruce McLaren, New Zealand – Monaco (1962), Le Mans (1966)
- Jochen Rindt, Austria – Monaco (1970), Le Mans (1965)
- Juan Pablo Montoya, Colombia – Monaco (2003), Indianapolis (2000, 2015)*
- Fernando Alonso, Spain – Monaco (2006, 2007), Le Mans (2018, 2019)
*Montoya won the LMP2 Pro-Am class at Le Mans in 2021, but overall victory is what is considered to be what it takes to count as Le Mans victory for Triple Crown purposes.
[For the alternative definition of Triple Crown which does not include Monaco: Mike Hawthorn, Phil Hill, Jim Clark, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jacques Villeneuve have each won one of Le Mans and the Indy 500, as well as at least one F1 World Championship.]