Address: Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, 3000 Pacific Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90806, USA
PH: +1 562 981-2600
Circuit type: Temporary street course
Long Beach can lay claim to setting the blueprint for the concept of a street race helping to rejuvenate the local economy and bring racing to the fans.
When motorsport enthusiast-turned-travel-agent Chris Pook first hatched a plan in the mid-1970s for a street race, Long Beach was an austere, post-industrial city, struggling in the shadows of more glamorous neighbours Los Angeles and San Diego. As a tourist destination it had little to offer, save for the Queen Mary cruise liner, which was permanently docked as a floating hotel and casino. The idea that the city could be transformed into the Monte Carlo of the West Coast seemed optimistic at best and downright fanciful at worst.
Nevertheless, Pook persevered and convinced city chiefs to allow a street race around the downtown area, close to the beach. That first event in 1975 was run for Formula 5000 cars and attracted a promising 46,000 spectators, with Brian Redman running out the inaugural winner. Pook had his sights set higher, however, and the next event was run six months later as part of the Formula One tour, Clay Regazzoni the runaway victor for Ferrari.
The 1977 race was to prove a turning point, with Mario Andretti's win – the first for an American in a US GP – garnering headlines across the world and putting Long Beach firmly on the map. During the next six years, the international stars continued to visit and with them began the transformation in fortunes for the city. Downtown, the porn movie houses and boarded-up buildings were being replaced by office buildings, restaurants and gleaming new hotels - a process that continues today.
Toyota signed up as the naming rights sponsor in 1980, a partnership which has continued unbroken for more than 30 years and is one of the more enduring in sports sponsorship.
By the mid-80s, the costs of transporting the F1 circus to Long Beach were rising, as were the sanction fees demanded by Bernie Ecclestone. A switch of codes was needed to ensure long-term survival and an approach by the IndyCar series was gratefully accepted.
The first Indycar GP was held in 1984, with Mario Andretti again the victor in his Budweiser-Haas Lola to ensure further headlines and firmly establish the event as the prelude to the Indy 500. Victories by other dynastic names from US racing helped to continue the success – Al Unser Jr was a six times winner – including four-in-a-row between 1988 and 1991 – while Mario notched up another two victories, as did son Michael.
Continual developments on the land in the surrounding area have necessitated a number of circuit changes over the years. The original course had its pit and paddocks on Ocean Boulevard, before a substantial elevation change down Linden Avenue to rejoin Seaside Way. Tight hairpins at either end of Shoreline Drive were also features.
The pits and paddock moved to Shoreline Drive, adjacent to the traditional startline, in 1983, while other changes over the years have seen the run to the hairpin at the east end of the course shortened, with the other hairpin eliminated altogether. Various excursions off Seaside Way around the Hyatt hotel have been made, before the decision to run as a continuous back straight in 1992. The last major changes have been in the turn one area, a redeveloped marina area requiring a track diversion, including around a fountain and later a roller coaster, to create one of the feature points of the circuit.
In 2015, the circuit became host to the West Coast USA round of the FIA Formula E championship for electric cars, meaning the circuit hosted race weekends for the first time in its long history, The Formula E event, which takes place a fortnight before the Toyota GP, is a one-day affair with free admission for the fans. A shorter version of the Grand Prix course is used, with a chicane at Bridgestone corner leading to run along the Indy pit lane exit to Tecate Corner (taken from the opposite direction), bypassing the fountain section altogether.
The circuit is located in downtown Long Beach in Southern California. Three major airports serve the local area. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport are each less than 30 minutes from downtown Long Beach, while Long Beach Airport, the West Coast hub for JetBlue, is just 10 minutes away.
Long Beach Transit provides free transportation on its Passport Shuttle buses throughout the downtown waterfront. An extensive network of LB Transit lines carry passengers to all major destinations within the city.
From the 1st Street Transit Gallery you can hop aboard the Metro Blue Line which travels north to downtown Los Angeles, with connections to other light rail lines traveling to LAX, Union Station, Pasadena, Hollywood and Universal Studios.