Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Greatest by Number: #39-30

We took a break from our Greatest by Number series, but early into April and with a holiday behind us, we are back. 

We are into the 30s and only four parts of this series remain. Some of these numbers are getting quite difficult to assign. In some cases, you have three or four legitimate candidates for each one and it only gets tougher as the numbers get lower. 

#39: Bryan Clauson
Clauson was one of the best USAC drivers we saw over the last decade and he only got a taste of the top asphalt series. 

He ranks seventh all-time in USAC National Midget race victories with 38, 20 of which came in the #39 car, mostly driven for Keith Kunz. His back-to-back National Midget championships came in the #39 car in 2010 and 2011. 

Clauson also ranks seventh all-time in USAC National Sprint race victories with 41, albeit it none in the #39 car. 

His first of three Indianapolis 500 starts came in the #39 Dallara-Honda with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. 

In 2016, Clauson set a goal to compete in 200 races over the course of the season between the Indianapolis 500, USAC Midget and Sprint car races, World of Outlaws and other competition. On August 6, 2016, Clauson lost his life in an accident at the Belleville Nationals, his 116th race of the year. In his memory, Clauson's name and race number, #39, were both included in the race title for the midget car race held at the dirt track inside turn three of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the BC39. 

While Clauson had some NASCAR and IndyCar experience, he was a master on dirt, and at 27 years old he was already asserting himself among the all-time greats. He was a throwback and a half, and he is missed.

Honorable Mentions:
Michael Andretti (Andretti's final two full seasons in IndyCar had him in the #39 Team Motorola Honda and he picked up his final two victories, fittingly at Toronto, where he had seven victories, and Long Beach, the site of his first carer victory. Andretti's final start, the 2007 Indianapolis 500, was also in the #39 Dallara-Honda).

Ryan Newman (Newman is the only man to win with the #39 in the NASCAR Cup Series, with four victories including the 2013 Brickyard 400. Prior to his NASCAR success, Newman won 13 USAC National Midget Series races in the #39 car).

#38: Mike Hawthorn
Only once has the #38 won a Formula One grand prix. It was Hawthorn in the 1954 Spanish Grand Prix, on the Pedralbes Circuit around the streets of Barcelona.

In a race that saw 13 lead changes in the first 24 laps, Hawthorn took the lead after his other contemporaries Alberto Ascari, Harry Schell, Maurice Trintignant and Stirling Moss all retired. From lap 24 to the checkered flag at the end of lap 80, Hawthorn was masterful in his Ferrari, taking victory by over a minute ahead of the Maserati of Luigi Musso and Juan Manuel Fangio was a lap down in third. 

It was the only time the Ferrari 554 finished in the points. It was the final time the Pedralbes Circuit hosted a race, as the 1955 Le Mans disaster changed safety standards for motorsports events held around the world.

Hawthorn would not win another race until July 6, 1958 at the French Grand Prix. Later that year Hawthorn would become the first British World Drivers' Champion.

Honorable Mention:
Ned Jarrett (Jarrett's third career NASCAR Cup victory came in the #38 Ford on Thanksgiving Day in 1959 at Columbia Speedway. It was Jarrett's only Cup victory not in car #11).

#37: José María López
López might be the forgotten USF1 driver, but the Argentine turned into a touring car legend after his close brush with grand prix glory. 

To be fair, prior to the USF1 train wreck, López was already a two-time Argentine TC2000 champion. In 2012, he returned to Argentina and won the Super TC 2000 championship. In 2013, he won on his debut World Touring Car Championship weekend, the second race in his home Argentine round.

From there, he won three consecutive WTCC championships. López is tied for second all-time in WTCC victories, on 29 with Robert Huff. They only trail Yvan Muller. López won at an impressive list of places: Marrakesh, Spa-Francorchamps, Suzuka, Macau and the Nürburgring Nordschleife. All of his WTCC success and two of his three Argentine championships came in car #37.

Though he has never made it to Formula One, López turned touring car success into an LMP1 ride with Toyota and has since become a World Endurance Drivers' Champion. 

Honorable Mentions:
Ryan Hunter-Reay (Hunter-Reay used the #37 in the 2010 IndyCar season when he was a late addition to the grid with Andretti Autosport. With only four guaranteed races, Hunter-Reay put together an impressive run at São Paulo and a victory at Long Beach sealed him a full season. He has been with Andretti Autosport ever since).

Jon Field/Clint Field (The Fields each won an American Le Mans Series class championship in the #37 Intersport Racing entry. Jon won the 2002 LMP675 championship and Clint won the 2005 LMP2 title. Jon and Clint each had ten ALMS victories in the #37 entry).

#36: André Lotterer
Lotterer is a three-time Le Mans winner and he was an FIA World Endurance Drivers' Champion, but none of that came in the #36. 

The German famously used the number in Japan in the Super Formula and Super GT championships driving for Team TOM'S. Thirteen of his 24 Super Formula victories were in the #36 car. His 2011 championship was driving the #36 Swift-Toyota and, in his 15-year Super Formula career, Lotterer was in the top three of the championship ten times and the top five of the championship 14 times. His worst championship finish was sixth in his final season in 2017. In Super GT, Lotterer won two GT500 championships in the #36 Lexus. 

In 2017-18, he joined the Formula E and other than his first season in the series, Lotterer has used the #36, but he continues to search for that first Formula E victory. 

I think Lotterer is an underrated talent considering his success in sports cars and single-seaters. His lone Formula One start was in a Caterham that failed after a lap. He has been a blast to watch, and he should be celebrated more.

Honorable Mentions:
Dan Gurney (Gurney's most famous victory, the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix, in his Eagle-Westlake sported a blue #36 on the front. Even more incredible is this victory came a week after his 24 Hours of Le Mans victory with A.J. Foyt).

Nicolas Lapierre (Lapierre has become an LMP2 master over the last few years with the Signatech-Alpine program. In the #36 Apline-Gibson, Lapierre has three class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and two Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers champion).

Louis Meyer (Meyer's victory in the 1933 Indianapolis 500 was in the #36 Miller. He led 71 laps).

Yannick Dalmas/Hurley Haywood/Mauro Baldi (1994 24 Hours of Le Mans winners in the #36 Dauer 962 Le Mans. It was Haywood's third Le Mans victory, Dalmas' second and Baldi's first, which made Baldi the 100th different driver to win the race overall).

#35: Jimmy Murphy
Murphy was arguably the best American driver in the 1920s.

In five seasons of IndyCar competition, he won 17 of 52 starts. He won his second start at Beverly Hills in 1920 and he was fourth in the Indianapolis 500, the top rookie finisher. He won four races the next season, but his most famous victory of the year was not in the United States. 

Murphy and Duesenberg contested the 1921 French Grand Prix at Le Mans. The American outfit was competitive with Murphy and Joe Boyer as its drivers. Boyer ended up falling out of the race after 17 laps with an engine failure. Murphy inherited the lead from Boyer and won the race, becoming the first American to win a grand prix in an American car no less. 

One year later, Murphy and Duesenberg brought that same car to Indianapolis and the #35 Duesenberg won the Indianapolis 500 from pole position, leading 153 of 200 laps. It was the first time the Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter won the race and at the time it was the most laps led by an Indianapolis 500 winner. 

Murphy would win his next two starts at Uniontown and Tacoma. Murphy only used the #35 in six starts but he won half of them. He won seven races in the 1922 season and followed it with two victories the year after that and three victories in 1924. He would finish third in both Indianapolis 500s over the next two years. 

In 1924, Murphy lost his life in a race in Syracuse, three days after his 30th birthday.

Honorable Mention:
Jochen Rindt (Rindt's second and final Indianapolis 500 start was in the #35 Brabham-Repco in 1968. He qualified 16th but lost a piston after five laps and was the second retirement from the race, ahead of only Mario Andretti). 

#34: Kevin Schwantz
Schwantz won 25 of 105 500cc grand prix starts and stood on the podium 51 times. Twenty-three of those victories and 45 of those podium finishes came on the #34 Suzuki. 

The Texan was in the top five of the championship in six consecutive seasons from 1989 to 1994. Despite winning at least five races in each season from 1989 to 1991, Schwantz continued to fall short of his first championship. His breakthrough would come in 1993 in a year he won four races including the Dutch TT. That year was also marred when Wayne Rainey suffered his career-ending accident at Misano. 

Schwantz remains tied for most premier class victories in the Japanese Grand Prix. He won the British Grand Prix four times, the German Grand Prix three times and Dutch TT three times. His #34 was the first retired from MotoGP competition.

Honorable Mention:
Juan Manuel Fangio (Fangio's first Formula One victory was the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix. He took pole position in the #34 Alfa Romeo by 2.6 seconds over teammate Nino Farina. He set fastest lap at 1:51 and led all 100 laps, taking victory by a lap ahead of Alberto Ascari and two laps ahead of Louis Chiron in third. It was the first grand slam in Formula One history in the series' second race. It was one of two times Fangio used the #34 in his Formula One career. The other would be his 51st and final start in the 1958 French Grand Prix, where Fangio finished fourth from eighth on the grid).

Wendell Scott (Scott remains the only African American driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race. His victory was on December 1, 1963 in Jacksonville. Scott made 469 of his 495 Cup starts in the #34 car).

#33: Max Verstappen
This one might sound nuts, but Verstappen might have this one claimed, and he is only 23 years old. 

He already has ten grand prix victories in his first 120 starts, not a record-breaking pace, but only five drivers have more victories than Verstappen without a world championship. Those include Stirling Moss, David Coulthard, Carlos Reutemann, Felipe Massa and Rubens Barrichello. He is one of 34 drivers with at least ten grand prix victories. 

There are some good options for #33, but it is hard to ignore what Verstappen has already accomplished and what we could likely see him do over the next seven seasons before he turns 30 years old. 

Honorable Mentions:
Teo Fabi (As a rookie in the 1983 CART season, Fabi won four races and pole position for the Indianapolis 500 on his way to finishing second in the championship, five points off Al Unser).

René Rast (Rast won three Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championships in four seasons. He has 24 victories in 76 DTM starts).

Harry Gant (All 18 of Gant's NASCAR Cup Series victories were in the #33 car, two of which were in the Southern 500 and one of those led off a sweep of the month of September in 1991). 

Ron Hornaday, Jr. (Hornaday, Jr. won two of his four NASCAR Truck Series championships in the #33 Chevrolet and 22 of his 51 Truck victories were in the #33).

#32: Ray Harroun
You win the first Indianapolis 500 and get credited for inventing the rear-view mirror, you get on this list. 

Harroun's Marmon Wasp remains one of the most iconic automobiles in Indianapolis 500 history, perhaps even in motorsports history. Harroun was ready to put his driving career behind him prior to the announcement of the 500-mile race set to take place on Memorial Day weekend in 1911. With such an incredible distance proposed, Marmon got its top driver to commit to the inaugural running of this race. 

He had already won seven races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in its first two years of existence. Using a conservative pace, Harroun won from 28th on the grid, still the furthest back an Indianapolis 500 winner has started. He led a race-high 88 laps and averaged a speed of 74.602 mph and took victory by a minute and 43 seconds ahead of Ralph Mulford's Lozier. 

Harroun returned to retirement after the historic victory and 110 years later he still finds his way into our conversations.

Honorable Mentions:
Patrick Carpentier (Four of Carpentier's five IndyCar victories were in the #32 Player's entry)

Ricky Craven (Craven won two NASCAR Cup races in his career, one at Martinsville and the other was the closest finish in Cup Series history at 0.002 second at Darlington. Not a bad two places for your only Cup victories. He was also the last driver to win with Tide sponsorship).

#31: Al Unser, Jr.
From one iconic car to another, the Penske PC-23 dominated the 1994 CART season and with the Mercedes-Benz 500I engine at Indianapolis, Penske was in full control of the Indianapolis 500 that year. 

The three-car team of Emerson Fittipaldi, Paul Tracy and Unser, Jr. won 12 of 16 races. Unser, Jr. was responsible for eight of those victories, the first coming at Long Beach with a victory at Indianapolis to follow after Fittipaldi got into the wall while leading late. A victory at Milwaukee made it three consecutive victories. 

Unser, Jr. also won at Portland, Cleveland, Mid-Ohio, Loudon and Vancouver. He was runner-up on three occasions and took the championship with 225 points, 47 points clear of his teammate Fittipaldi. Unser, Jr. clinched the title with two races remaining in the season. 

After the 1994 season, Unser, Jr. would not use the #31 again until his final full season of competition in 2003 with Kelly Racing in the Indy Racing League. He won at Texas in June, his 34th and final victory and he finished sixth in the championship.

Honorable Mentions:
Jon Beekhuis (Beekhuis won the 1988 American Racing Series championship in the #31 March-Buick with two victories, five podium finishes and ten top five finishes in 12 starts. He won the title by three points over Tommy Byrne).

Patrick Long/Jörg Bergmeister (Before their success in the #45 Flying Lizard Racing Porsche, Long and Bergmeister were champions in the #31 Petersen/White Lightning Porsche. The American-German duo won five races on their way to the 2005 ALMS GT2 championship. Bergmeister won the title the following year after Long missed the season opener at Sebring, but the two won three races).

#30: Takuma Sato
There are many good options for the #30, but no great options, and I think this allows us to give a little appreciation to Sato. 

He has only adopted the #30 since he joined Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the 2018 season. In his three seasons with the team, Sato has won four races, including his second Indianapolis 500 last year. He has been in the top ten of the championship the last two years with him finishing a career-best seventh in 2020.

Sato is not without his flaws, but he has made 182 IndyCar starts and 90 Formula One starts. He was third in the 2004 United States Grand Prix, a year where he was eighth in the world championship. He drove a Super Aguri to sixth in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix with a pass for position on Fernando Alonso's McLaren where Sato just had the faster car. Alonso was not driving wounded. Sato and Super Aguri were better that day. He is the only driver to win the Macau Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500, and he was the 2001 British Formula Three champion. 

I didn't think Sato would spend over a decade in IndyCar. I thought he would give it three or four years and then move on or retire. He has stuck around and while we have seen many poor days with questionable decision-making, in the last five years we have seen an improved Sato, one who is more calculated and is able to pull off audacious passes. For all the frustration watching Sato show speed but get into accidents, it has been rewarding to see him pull out quality results and be a threat the last few years.

Honorable Mentions:
Arie Luyendyk (He famously only used the #30 for one season driving the #30 Domino's Pizza Lola-Chevrolet for Doug Shierson Racing, but Luyendyk picked up his first career victory in the car, the 1990 Indianapolis 500 to boot. Luyendyk also won the 1998 24 Hours of Daytona in the #30 Doran/Moretti Racing Ferrari 333 SP).

Todd Bodine (Bodine won the 2005 and 2008 NASCAR Truck Series championship in the #30 Germain Racing Toyota and 21 of his 22 Truck victories were in the #30 Toyota).

Dan Gurney (Gurney won the 1962 French Grand Prix in the #30 Porsche. It remains Porsche's only Formula One victory as a constructor. It was also Gurney's first grand prix victory). 

Gabriele Tarquini (Tarquini won the 2018 World Touring Car Cup championship in the #30 Hyundai at the age of 57 years old, but this is a legacy mention as Tarquini was the 1994 British Touring Car champion, 2003 European Touring Car champion and 2009 World Touring Car champion).

We covered the field in this section. A dirt track driver, a motorcycle champion, a pair of Le Mans winners, two drivers born in 1800s and a driver born in 1997. We are only going to include more champions, more famous race winners and there will be more difficult decisions. Some names are going to be left out and it will be hard to fathom, but it will be equally as difficult to imagine it being any different.