CONCORD, N.C. — Fernando Alonso used to drive a McLaren in Formula One.
Now he’s a free agent, or at least not locked into a series or a particular venue, in hopes of tracking down the elusive Triple Crown of motorsports — the Grand Prix of Monaco, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.
That’s a worthwhile goal, to be sure, and like Alexander the Great, he was flat running out of mountains yet to climb. Alonso has won two of the three races of the Triple Crown — Monaco and Le Mans — with his sights set on Indy this May to become just the second man to win all three.
Who was the first? Why, Graham Hill, of course. He won Indy in 1966, Monaco in 1963-’65 and 1968-’69 and Le Mans in 1972.
Others have won several legs of several different Triple Crowns, with much fanfare, but none have equaled Sir Graham, as yet. Alonso is the latest to give it a shot. There’s only one more driver who has the same opportunity, and that could (possibly) still happen.
Juan Pablo Montoya, as much a throwback kind of driver as there’s been in many years, has won Indy twice and Monaco once, but has not won at Le Sarthe.
The most famous of the bunch of drivers to have won variations of the Triple are A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. Foyt won four Indy 500s, the 1972 Daytona 500 and the historic 1967 Le Mans race alongside Dan Gurney in the revolutionary Ford GT40. Andretti won at Indy in 1969 (and should have won at least three more), topped the Daytona 500 in 1969 thanks to Holman Moody and earned the F-1 world championship in 1978, but never won at Monaco.
Others have come close, needing just one to complete the Triple Crown. Jochen Rindt earned the world driving championship in 1970 (posthumously), won at Monaco that same year and visited victory lane at Le Mans in 1965, lacking only an Indy 500 win to complete the Triple Crown.
Maurice Trintignant, Tazio Nuvolari and Bruce McLaren each had Monaco and Le Mans victories, but never won at Indy.
Now that Alonso has his 2018 Le Mans victory (thanks, Toyota!) he can focus on winning at Indy. He had a great shot in 2017, but a balky engine ended his first attempt. That it happened in a car the same color as the traditional McLaren (sort of orange, sort of yellow, 100-percent bad-ass) was perhaps a portent to unlocking this achievement in 2019.
Mike Hawthorn and Phil Hill both won at Le Mans, and both were world champions, but never won at Monaco or Indy.
Jim Clark won at Indy and won two world driving championships (the Indy win and the second WDC both came in 1965).
Emerson Fittipaldi won two Indy 500s and two world driving championships (17 and 19 years apart, respectively). Jacques Villeneuve won his Indy 500 in 1995 (the last unencumbered race pre-split with CART) and his F-1 title in 1997, in contrast to Fittipaldi’s career-spanning achievements.
If Alonso can do it in 2019, that would be an achievement for the ages. So much has gone under the bridge since Hill won Monaco in 1963, Indy in 1966 and Le Mans in 1972 … technology alone almost makes Hill’s feat seem nearly impossible to perceive.
Alonso won at Monaco in 2006 and ’07, 43 and 42 years since Hill did it for the first time, and he won Le Mans last year, 52 years after Hill got it done. That is enough to boggle the mind.
Alonso has the verve and panache to get the job done and make it a world-wide celebration. Yes, he’s Spanish and Hill was a Brit, but having an event like this happen so far removed from the first time is a bit of a global thing.
For one, I’m rooting for Alonso to get it done. There have been too few drivers with his kind of passion for it in the past 40 years, ever since Foyt and Andretti got out of the game. Montoya is also that kind of driver.
Here’s hoping we unlock the magic of the Triple Crown in 2019.