Hello everybody and welcome to another edition of SPO.
I’ve always had huge respect for drivers who could be at the top in multiple disciplines; like Dan Gurney, Jackie Ickx, Bruce McLaren, and Graham Hill, for instance. Those who would routinely race openwheel and sportscars at the same time…and win… are some of the greatest drivers to have ever lived. Perhaps the greatest among chase something called the Triple Crown.
Only one driver in history has been able to do it, and that would be Sir Graham Hill. He won the Monaco GP, Indy 500 and 24hrs of Le Mans (and F1 Champion to boot) all within a 6 year timespan. I think it is the greatest and most difficult achievement in motosports. Any driver capable of winning all three races is certainly among the greatest ever.
Driving a formula car or an indycar takes an entirely different approach than a sportscar. The differences between the two are obvious; weight and downforce (although back in the mid 60’s, I’m sure sportscars were making more downforce than a formula car). However, what I think the biggest difference between the two cars is how they are run. Openwheel (non-oval) races are typically 30-75mins long (going up the ladder system) whereas sports car races are at minimum 75mins long. Endurance is a huge part of it: A sportscar driver could be tasked with taking on a double or even triple stint, where they could be in a car for up to 3hrs. Back before min/max driving times were mandated, you’d see some drivers go 6-8hrs straight!
So you could see why I have huge admiration for these drivers who could excel at getting the most out of each car and be victorious on a regular basis.
The problem is, we don’t really see much of this anymore at the pinnacle of motorsport. You’d never see Michael Schumacher race an LMP900 prototype at Le Mans whilst chasing his F1 championships. While it is more common to see Indycar drivers take up the challenge (like Scott Dixon or Ryan Hunter-Reay) nowadays, I wouldn’t say that they made an everlasting impact on their secondary endeavours. Why is that?
For F1 drivers nowadays, I’d imagine sponsorships (all the sweet moola) and team obligations are the main factor behind it all. It takes serious focus to be able to succeed in F1, and if you don’t perform, you get left in the dust. That’s why it was much more common to see double or triple dipping back before sponsorships became a mainstay in motorsport.
Which brings us to today’s hot topic; Fernando Alonso’s quest for Motosports Triple Crown.
I fully support Nando in his quest for the crown, and I think he is fully capable of winning it. He will be contesting the FULL WEC and F1 championships this year with McLaren’s blessing (that in its self is amazing), a year after attempting to win the Indy 500 with Andretti. If he can do it, and remain fairly competitive in both championships all year long, it will be one of the greatest seasons in the history of motorsport.
Circling back to the main issue though, is that there should be more of an incentive for drivers to attempt it. If I were the head of the FIA, I’d push for a reward for completing the triple crown. Whether it be a huge sum of money or an official form of recognition, I think the problem lies more with the F1 teams than anything.
Look at Indycar teams like Andretti, Penske, or Ganassi, and they run both Indy and IMSA teams, and commonly employ drivers in the two series concurrently. What do F1 teams do? Nothing. I can excuse the privateer teams (save from Red Bull) from participating because they struggle to stay afloat in F1 on a regular basis. Manor tried to compete in F1 and WEC (albeit LMP2) at the same time and failed miserably, eventually closing the F1 team in the process.
If the FIA gave teams an incentive to do allow drivers to compete and perhaps have an added incentive to run their own teams in WEC, perhaps we could return to the glory days of racing where we can truly see the worlds best drivers shine in multiple cars over the course of the year. For example, let’s use McLaren: They are rumoured to be wanting to make a comeback into sportscar racing, so this shouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine.
McLaren Technology Group Executive Director Zak Brown already owns a sportscar team in United Autosports (they run in ELMS, and will run in IMSA’s NAEC this year). Let’s say UA becomes the McLaren factory team like CORE or Joest do for Porsche and Mazda, and decide to compete in LMP1 in WEC. This would give McLaren a team in both pinnacles of openwheel and sportscar racing. Let’s then say McLaren places 3rd in the F1 constructors and wins the WEC constructors championships as well as Le Mans. McLaren would get the prize money for both championship placings, in addition to a (throwing an arbitrary number) 10 million euro prize in both championships for competing full time in both series. This would be enough of an incentive to run in both series and would also allow the chance to see some F1 drivers attempt to get 2/3’s of the triple crown every year.
While I doubt this would ever happen, I think it would be excellent for motorsport to see something like it happen.
Regardless, I think the drivers of today should try to push their respective teams to try to allow them to branch out. The motosports world would shine a little brighter :).
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