Long Beach Street Circuit - Monte Carlo of the West Coast
Long Beach Street Circuit is a temporary race track in Long Beach, California, which currently hosts IndyCar Series race and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race. Long Beach Grand Prix is the longest serving major street race in North America, being established in 1975 as Formula 5000 race.
Formula One was visiting Long Beach from 1976 to 1983, then CART/Champ Car races had been organized there from 1984 to 2008 and finally, since 2009, Long Beach Grand Prix became a part of the IndyCar Series calendar. In 2015 and 2016, Long Beach also hosted the races of the Formula E.
The Monte Carlo of the West Coast was opened in 1975
The idea of a Grand Prix race in Long Beach was born in a head of British travel agent and motorsport enthusiast Christopher Pook, who wanted to pull out the city from a shadow of bigger Californian towns, primarily Los Angeles and San Diego. As a tourist destination, Long Beach had little to offer, so Pook wanted to create the ‘Monte Carlo of the West Coast’.
In that time, Long Beach began a billion-dollar redevelopment program for a downtown area, so Pook convinced city chiefs to allow a street race in that part of a town. The original race track, with a start line at Shoreline Drive and finish line at Ocean Boulevard, was a 2.02-miles (3.251 km) long. It features two high-speed straights, two hairpins and plenty of 90-degree turns.
Formula One came to Long Beach in 1976
The first event there was the USAC Formula 5000 race, held on September 28, 1975, in front of 46,000 spectators. The inaugural winner of the Grand Prix of Long Beach was Brian Redman, ahead of Vern Schuppan and Eppie Wietzes.
Six months later, in March 1976, Formula One Grand Prix came to Long Beach. The official name of the race was the United States Grand Prix West, as the US Grand Prix was traditionally held at Watkins Glen. Many former F1 champions were present for the weekend’s vintage race, including Denny Hulme, Jack Brabham and Juan Manuel Fangio himself. Dan Gurney and Phil Hill were also there, helping to conceive and promote the event.
Regazzoni was the first F1 winner at Long Beach
Ferrari driver Clay Regazzoni made a hat trick, taking a pole position, setting the fastest lap and winning the inaugural Formula 1 race at Long Beach. His teammate Niki Lauda was second, ahead of Tyrrell’s Patrick Depailler.
In 1977, Mario Andretti won the race for Lotus, becoming the first American driver to win F1 US Grand Prix. His victory was treated well in a media across the world, especially in the US, so Long Beach gets a status which race founder Chris Pook wanted.
Toyota is the naming sponsor since 1980
In the meantime, a downtown area was getting a new look. The highlight of the transformation was an opening of new Long Beach Convention Center in 1978. Toyota, which was a sponsor since the beginning, signed up as the naming rights sponsor in 1980. That agreement is still active today, being one of the longest sponsorship agreements in the American motorsport.
Following Regazzoni and Andretti, Carlos Reuteman (Ferrari) was next on the list of winners, taking a victory in 1978. Gilles Villeneuve (Ferrari) was a winner in 1979, followed by Nelson Piquet (Brabham) in 1980 and Alan Jones (Williams) in 1981.
First changes of the track in 1982
In 1982, McLaren’s Niki Lauda won the race on a significantly changed circuit, with a length increased to 2.13-miles (3.428 km) and ten seconds longer lap. John Watson scored one more victory for McLaren in 1983, on a circuit which had been changed again. The length was 2.03 miles (3.275 km), with start and finish line for the first time in the same place, at Shoreline Drive.
Raising costs of transporting the F1 circus to Long Beach, but also higher fees demanded by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, forced the organizers to came out from Formula 1 world and switched to something else.
Long Beach Grand Prix as a part of CART calendar since 1984
The CART Indy Car World Series included the Long Beach Grand Prix into the calendar for 1984 season. The street course underwent changes one more time, being shortened to 1.67 miles (2.687 km). The first CART race winner was Mario Andretti in his Budweiser-Haas Lola. In the following years, Mario Andretti won two more times (1985 and 1987) while his son Michael was a winner in 1986.
Al Unser Jr. is a record-holder with six wins
Then, Al Unser Jr’s domination started, with four consecutive wins between 1988 and 1991. He added two more wins in 1994 and 1995. Other Long Beach Grand Prix winners were Danny Sullivan, Paul Tracy (four times), Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi (two times), Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Sebastien Bourdais (three times) and Will Power.
Many changes of circuit layout
During more than two decades of CART races at Long Beach, a constant development of the area around the circuit forced many changes.
After the pits and paddock were moved to Shoreline Drive in 1983, other changes of layout followed in 1984, 1987, 1992, 1999 and 2000. The last major changes have been made in the turn one area. The current layout of a 1.968-mile (3.167 km) long track was set in 2000.
IndyCar Series at Long Beach since 2009
After 25 editions of Long Beach Grand Prix as a CART-sanctioned event, the race became a part of the unified IndyCar Series in 2009. The first winner in merged series was Dario Franchitti. In the following years, winners were Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway (two times), Will Power, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud.
Formula E came to Long Beach two times
Recently, one more international single-seater competition added Long Beach to its calendar. It was the Formula E Championship in its inaugural season 2014/2015. The Long Beach ePrix took place on April 4, 2015, on a modified 1.305-mile (2.100 km) circuit. The winner was Nelson Piquet Jr. Another Brazilian, Lucas di Grassi, won the second Long Beach ePrix in April 2016. Long Beach didn’t renew the contract for the 2016-2017 Formula E season.
Two female winners at the streets of Long Beach
In the more than 40 years long history of Long Beach street circuit, some other second-grade open-wheel racing series were visiting ‘Monte Carlo of the West Coast’, such were Atlantic Championship or Indy Lights. Some of the multiple winners are Geoff Brabham, Alex Tagliani or Steve Robertson.
Sports car races regularly at Long Beach since 2006
Sports car racing competitions occasionally visited Long Beach, with two IMSA GT Championship visits in 1990 and 1991 and then Rolex Sports Car Series race in 2006. In 2007, American Le Mans Series came to Long Beach and stayed there until the merger with Grand-Am Series into the IMSA SportsCar Championship.
The most recent winners of the sports car Long Beach Grand Prix were brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor in 2015 and 2016. In the ALMS period, Lucas Luhr became the record holder with four wins, including three wins along Klaus Graf as a co-driver. Simon Pagenaud won two times in the ALMS, so he’s the only driver to score Long Beach Grand Prix wins both in the open-wheel and sports car category.
Address: Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, 3000 Pacific Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90806, USA
Phone: +1 562 981-2600
Official website: www.gplb.com