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The King and the Triple Crown

November 5, 2015 Archive Insight

Driver Graham Hill, Winner of the United States Grand Prix, October 3, 1965 THF116676

When you hear the phrase “Triple Crown,” the sport of horse racing generally comes to mind.  However, the world of motorsport also has its own, unofficial Triple Crown title. To achieve this feat, a driver must win three specific titles during their career. Some enthusiasts contend the three titles are the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Monaco Grand Prix, while others replace the race in Monaco with the Formula One World Championship.

The Triple Crown of Motorsport has been possible since 1929, when the last race, the Monaco Grand Prix, was first run through the streets of the principality. (If you are using the Formula One World Championship title instead, the Triple Crown became possible in 1950.) In the last 86 years, many drivers have won one or two components of the Triple Crown, but only one man, Graham Hill, completed either trifecta. This accomplishment attests to Hill’s immense skill on the track, as each race or title corresponds to a different discipline of the sport.

Graham at 1965 Monaco Grand Prix THF94743

Hill’s first steps toward the Triple Crown came in Formula One racing, where his skills earned him the World Championship title in 1962 and 1968. The Monaco Grand Prix was, and still is, a main race of the Formula One season, and Hill regularly competed on the Circuit de Monaco. Navigating its winding, narrow streets, tight turns, elevation changes, and even a tunnel, Graham Hill won the race 5 times between 1963 and 1969, earning the nickname “King of Monaco.”

Graham at Indy 500 2009.158

The next leg of the Triple Crown for Graham Hill was the Indianapolis 500. He managed to make the starting grid in three consecutive years (1966-1968), but only won the race once, during his first attempt. With that win, Hill joined an elite group of 8 drivers to take the race in their Indy rookie year. 1967 and 1968 were not good years for Hill at the Brickyard- a piston issue forced him to drop out early in ’67 and a crash on the 100th lap took him out of the ’68 race.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans, the oldest endurance motorsport race in the world, is the final piece for either Triple Crown of Motorsport. Graham Hill participated in the event multiple times between the 1950s and the 1970s, but his only win came in 1972. Teamed with Henri Pescarolo, they completed 344 laps of the Circuit de la Sarthe in their Mantra MS670. By taking this final title, Graham Hill cemented his place in motorsport history as one of the greatest drivers to ever get behind the wheel of a race car.

Car #7 driven by Graham Hill and Brian Muir at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans 2009.158

Graham Hill retired from driving in 1975, spending his time working with the Embassy Hill race team he had established in 1973. Returning from France with the team in November 1975, the plane Hill was piloting crashed on a golf course in London, killing all 6 men on board. Forty years after his passing, Graham Hill is still considered one of the elite drivers in racing history, and his Triple Crown of Motorsport title only adds to his legacy.

Janice Unger is Digital Processing Archivist for Racing at The Henry Ford.

Le Mans, Indiana, Europe, Indy 500, race car drivers, 20th century, 1970s, 1960s, racing, by Janice Unger

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