Over a three-week period in late May and early June, all that’s fascinating, exhilarating and, yes, frustrating about this sport we all love is distilled into three iconic, yet very different races.
Cussed calendar considerations put two of them on the same day in late May, albeit with the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 separated by six time zones and several hours. The third, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, straddles a mid-June weekend in northern France. Together, they form auto racing’s unofficial, yet highly-regarded Triple Crown.
Only one driver, the late Graham Hill, has won all three to complete the feat. But two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso has been looking to emulate him since making a very competitive, yet prematurely-curtailed debut in the 2017 Indy 500. Alonso had already checked the Monaco GP box in 2006 and ’07. He added Le Mans in ’18, courtesy of Toyota’s factory attack, then won again this year for good measure.
As for Indy, his return in 2019 with a highly-touted, McLaren-run program ended in an ignominious failure to qualify. If and when he returns to the Brickyard on his elusive quest – and any true race fan hopes that he does – it’s likely to be under very different circumstances.
If nothing else, Alonso and McLaren’s failure showed how essential hard-earned experience and knowledge is to winning at Indy – basically, the stuff that Roger Penske’s race teams collectively possess in vast quantities.
The 2019 Indianapolis 500 marked Penske’s 50th anniversary competing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Fittingly, it ended on another victory, with Simon Pagenaud taking his first and his boss notching up an 18th.
RACER’s interview with Pagenaud reveals how much an Indy win means to this insightful and reflective Frenchman.
How much the “500” means to Roger Penske is very obvious, too. No matter how successful the 82 year-old dynamo is in his multi-faceted business empire (short answer: very), racing is what still drives “The Captain,” and the Month of May in Indianapolis is the lodestone.
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