F5000 Long Beach
AT A TIME when open road racing appears to be suffering its death throes, at least in Europe, it may come as a surprise to find it booming in the City of Long Beach, California. After a year and a half of negotiation, promotion and sheer hard work, the Long Beach City authorities finally got their inaugural race—a round of the SCCA Formula 5000 Championship—off the ground on September 28th. Much of the responsibility for the race’s success and organisation must go to Chris Pook, Long Beach resident British businessman, who originally sold the idea to the Long Beach authorities and is currently finalising arrangements for the World Championship Formula One race which will take place on the circuit in March, 1976.
The 2.02-mile circuit has been mapped out near the dockland area of Long Beach and although it hardly has the “jet-set” appeal of Monte Carlo or’ the sheer spectacle of Barcelona’s Montjuich Park, it is tricky and demanding in the extreme. The main start/ finish straight consists of one side of a dual carriageway (carrying the imposing title of Ocean Boulevard !), the other side serving as a very spacious pit lane, and as this straight is on a much higher level than the rest of the circuit there are two spectacularly steep hills up and down which the bulky Formula 5000 cars provide a fine spectacle. The spectators’ view is obviously rather hampered by the maze of mandatory safety catch fencing, but a great deal of attention has been paid to this aspect of the circuit and ingenious portable concrete barriers, into which the uprights for this fencing are actually fixed, are favoured in place of the more usual double layer guard rails. As Long Beach is largely populated by elderly retired people, the local authority
handled its “public relations” in fine style with offers of free weekend holidays away from the race just in case the excitement and irritation should prove too much. It says a great deal for the great interest and enthusiasm engendered by the race that only a handful of residents took up the local authority on their offer. To the visiting enthusiast the overall atmosphere amongst virtually all the residents reflected their overwhelming enthusiasm for the race.
As if all the excitement of a new circuit wasn’t enough, the Formula 5000 race proved to be one of the best ever seen in North America. Victory in the two 12-lap heats fell to Tony Brise (Taylor/Yip Lola T332) and Al Unser (Viceroy/Parnelli Jones Lola T332), the young British driver capturing the imagination of the huge crowd by racing expertly with Mario Andretti and beating the American in his heat. The 50-lap final turned into a real “no holds barred” contest between Unser, Andretti and Brise, but their pace proved too hot for their machinery, driveshaft failures sending Brise (who did the lion’s share of the leading) and Andretti into retirement while Unser damaged his car with a slide into a barrier. Thus eventual victory fell to Brian Redman’s Carl Haas/Jim Hall Lola T332, clinching the SCCA’s F5000 championship for the second consecutive year, and Vern Schuppan’s Jorgensen Eagle was the only car to complete the same number of laps as the winner.—A.H.