And there are plenty of fine drivers, drivers of the calibre of Dan Gurney, who tried plenty of times to win the 500 and never quite made it. Between all its racing members, the Andretti family has over 70 starts in the race, but to date only Mario’s win in 1969 to its credit. Michael, Jeff and Marco all won Rookie of the Year on their debut, but none so far has won the race. Even Jim Clark only one once in five attempts.
But if he does win Indy in this or any other year, no-one doubts where his focus will fall next: he wants to do the triple and having already won the Monaco Grand Prix, he will want to do the same at Le Mans.
Actually, I think Le Mans will be a whole lot easier to win than Indy. Not that he will be there this summer, but freak occurrences aside, there will be only five cars on the grid that can win the race (two Porsches and three Toyotas), so all he’d need is a seat in one of them already to have a 20 per cent chance of victory. And insofar as Le Mans cars are set up conventionally and race around a conventional track with downforce, acceleration and braking all a little reduced from what he is already very used to, he’ll adapt to the driving challenge far quicker. But even this will not be easy: he’ll have to get used to driving at night, factor in gentlemen drivers in massively slower cars and work with other drivers for the good of the team, which conceptually is as far from the winner-takes-all and your team-mate is your greatest enemy approach of F1 as it’s possible to get.
The triple he seeks is so hard to achieve that, to date, only one man has done it, that other double F1 world champion Graham Hill. But Hill did so at a time when drivers were free to race in as many different series as their calendars allowed in cars that were much simpler and less sensitive to set up changes than those of today. So the task Alonso has set for himself may seem the same on paper, but in reality, it is immeasurably more difficult. And I know no better than you if he will manage it. All I would say is that I’d still place him in the top three most talented drivers in Formula 1 so if I were to back anyone to do it, he’d be near the top of the list. And if he does pull it off it will be a far greater achievement than Hill’s: indeed it will stand among the greatest feats in motor-racing history.
Images courtesy of LAT