This weekend the Verizon IndyCar series heads west for the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The famous street-course race, which hosted Formula 1 for eight years in the 1970s, has become one of the most prestigious races on the IndyCar calendar and is a race which drivers desperately want to win.
Over the years many of IndyCar’s biggest names have put it all on the line to score a victory on the Shoreline Drive circuit. Here’s a look at the top 5 Long Beach races, since IndyCar took over as the event’s main attraction in 1984.
Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, there is no name more associated with American open-wheel racing than that of Mario Andretti. Throughout the 60s and 70s the name on every racing fan’s mind was Andretti. However, in the mid 1980’s, the torch was passed from Mario to his son Michael.
Michael Andretti would become a household name throughout the 80s and 90s, and is still heavily involved in IndyCar racing today as a team-owner, more than 30 years after his first race.
Andretti started the 1986 Grand Prix of Long Beach in his Kraco Enterprises March/Cosworth from seventh place on the grid. On Lap 33 Andretti passed Danny Sullivan to take the lead of the race, however he would relinquish first place to Al Unser Jr on Lap 56. Andretti would reclaim the race lead on the 72nd lap, eventually going on to take the chequered flag.
This race marked Andretti’s first win in IndyCar. While Mario Andretti wouldn’t retire for another 8 years, the torch had unofficially been passed from father to son.
Due to increasing costs of operating a Formula 1 race in America, Grand Prix organisers looked to keep the famous event going, with a different series as the main attraction throughout the mid-80s. Following the 1983 race, organiser Chris Pook announced that he had secured a deal with IndyCar to race the following year.
The first IndyCar Grand Prix of Long Beach brought some of the biggest names in American racing of that era to the famous California street course for the first time, making for a star-studded inaugural race.
The race itself was filled with accidents and mechanical failures – at the end of the day only 11 drivers made it across the finish line. However, it was the sheer dominance of Mario Andretti that captured headlines the following morning. Andretti started on pole position in his number 3 Newman Haas Lola/Cosworth, alongside Irish driver Derek Daly, and led the race from start to finish.
Andretti would end up winning two more Long Beach races, prior to his retirement in 1994.
The 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach marked the third race of the season, which up to that point had been dominated by Andretti Autosport drivers James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter Reay.
Polesitter Dario Franchitti would lead the first 27 laps before Will Power passed and led until his Lap 30 pit-stop, giving up first place to AJ Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato. Sato would go on to lead the remaining 50 laps, ultimately securing his first IndyCar victory.
Sato’s win received worldwide attention, as it marked the first IndyCar Series victory for a Japanese born driver.
In qualifying for the 1999 Grand Prix, Brazil’s Tony Kanaan captured his first pole position, starting the race on the front row alongside Team Green driver Dario Franchitti. In the first corner of the race, America’s Bryan Herta would pass both Franchitti and Kanaan to take the lead, however the two would go on to pass Herta on the following lap.
Franchitti and Kanaan then worked to distance themselves from the rest of the field, while Herta would be passed by Juan Pablo Montoya prior to his first pit-stop.
Later in the race, following a restart, Montoya would pass Franchitti in the first corner and looked to catch up to race leader Kanaan. Montoya continued to apply pressure throughout the first half of the race, often setting lap times much faster than Kanaan. On Lap 46, Kanaan cracked under pressure and crashed in Turn 6, allowing Montoya to take the lead.
The Colombian would go on to dominate the rest of the race, earning his first career victory ahead of Franchitti and Herta.
Juan Pablo Montoya would eventually go on to claim the 1999 FedEx Championship.
The 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach is an event often considered one of the best road/street course races in IndyCar Series history.
The 98 event didn’t start on a high note for defending series champion Alex Zanardi, who was forced to start from 11th place on the grid following an incident in the late stages of Saturday qualifying.
The race started with American driver Bryan Herta leading teammate and car owner, Bobby Rahal, to the green flag. However, an early race incident clogged up the hairpin, causing several drivers to drop off the lead lap, including Alex Zanardi, who would head to the restart in 18th place.
Zanardi and his Ganassi Racing crew utilised fuel strategy and smart driving skills to bring the Italian up through the field.
As the laps began to wind down, Zanardi found himself in third place, behind Team Green’s Dario Franchitti, and pole sitter Bryan Herta. On Lap 100 Zanardi used fresh tyres to get by Franchitti and set his sights on Herta and the race lead.
With just two laps to go, Zanardi took the inside line going into turn three, slotting himself into the lead of the race, while Franchitti would take second, one corner later.
Zanardi would hold on to the finish, capturing his second straight win on the streets of Long Beach.