From IndyCar to F1: The best of the Long Beach Grand Prix


From record-breaking recovery drives to controversial contacts, here are some of the greatest races at the Long Beach street circuit ahead of IndyCar's latest visit

Start of the 1976 Grand Prix West at Long Beach

1976 US Grand Prix West: Unique Long Beach circuit still hosts IndyCar

Alvis Upitis/Getty Images

Americas greatest street race.

It’s a reputation that has been earned since expat British real estate agent Chris Pook realised his vision of a street circuit in Long Beach, California, which held its first race — an F5000 event — in 1975.

Ever since, the circuit has been blessed with many great races and even greater winners, stretching from F1’s John Watson and Niki Lauda to IndyCar’s Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta.

In celebration of IndyCar’s 39th Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend, here’s a list of some of the best moments we’ve witnessed along this 1.9 mile stretch of Californian tarmac.


Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – 1983

Formula 1

John Watson McLaren 1983 Long Beach GP

For a weekend that began with such disappointment, McLaren certainly made the most of F1’s final visit to Long Beach in 1983.

A revision of the technical regulations had left the former world championship contender scrambling to redesign its cars, resulting in a dismal qualifying performance – John Watson starting 22nd and Niki Lauda 23rd.

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But what the MP4/1C lacked in one-lap pace, it more than made up for in the race itself. Passing rival cars at a phenomenal rate – almost one per lap – Watson and Lauda had just two cars ahead of them by the end of lap 28.

A sensational move down the inside of WilliamsJacques Laffite handed Watson the lead on lap 48, where he would stay until the chequered flag, completing the greatest recovery drive in F1 history. His Austrian team-mate would finish second, 28sec behind the leader.

The performance would turn out to be a rare highlight for McLaren over the course of the 1983 season, and would also signal the end of F1 racing at Long Beach – organisers signing a deal with the cheaper IndyCar series after fears of bankruptcy loomed.


Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – 1989


Mario Andretti racing CART at 1990 Long Beach Grand Prix

Mario Andretti at Long Beach Grand Prix


The race to the flag always looked set to produce fireworks. Al Unser Jr was just metres away from Mario Andretti’s leading Lola T89/00-Chevrolet as he exited the pit lane, with just a handful of laps remaining.

The pair had proven to be the class of the field, Andretti’s son Michael a further 20 seconds back, and looked to race all the way to the finish before disaster struck. Battling to defendthe lead and hampered by a backmarker, Andretti took a wide line into one of the circuit’s tight right-handers, giving Unser Jr the opportunity to slip through. Instead, the trailing driver locked his front wheels and ploughed straight to the back of the leader, losing his front wing in the process.

The contact span Andretti around and out of the race, whilst Unser would eventually limp on to claim victory.

In victory lane, Unser Jr took full responsibility for the accident but was interrupted by a furious Andretti, who found it “very difficult” to congratulate his rival after the controversial contact.


Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach – 2022


IndyCar Long Beach

A small lock-up was all it took. Having won at Long Beach the year before, Colton Herta was the favourite to reclaim the top step of the podium in 2022, but crashed heavily into one of the circuit’s unforgiving concrete barriers with just 30 laps remaining.

In a race that had already provided an electric start and controversial contact, Herta’s retirement ensured wheel-to-wheel battles all the way to the chequered flag – the top five drivers all within reach of victory.

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After a full course yellow forced the field back together — caused by a spinning Simon Pagenaud – Joseph Newgarden led the way followed closely by Alex Palou and Marcus Ericsson. But the show would ultimately be stolen by the man in fourth – Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean.

The Frenchman had qualified sixth but found himself on a fresh set of soft compound tyres at the restart, quickly passing Ericsson after the Swede hit the wall. Three laps later he passed Palou, utilising push to pass and holding his nerve down the back straight to move up into second.

A final battle for the lead looked imminent, but with just two laps to go Takuma Sato collided with a tyre barrier and forced the race to finish under caution.

A disappointing end to what was one of Long Beach’s most action packed weekends.


Race of Long Beach E-Prix – 2016

Formula E

Formula E Long Beach e-Prix 2016

Formula E at the iconic Long Beach circuit in 2016


Although lacking the iconic roar of IndyCar or Formula 1 engines, Formula E’s visit to the Californian coastline was no less action packed.

Sam Bird and Lucas di Grassi were the drivers out in front, whilst a mixture of former Formula 1 drivers kept things entertaining in the midfield. Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna both had moments of magic, but it was Sébastien Buemi who pulled off a sensational dive down the inside of Daniel Abt to move up into fifth.

Unfortunately the Swiss driver would undo his hard work just one lap later, misjudging a braking zone and plowing into the back of Robin Frijns. Two corners up the road, De Grassi passed Bird for the lead – selling a dummy before overtaking his rival on the dirty side of the track.

The mid-race drama would continue for Buemi, who dented his championship hopes by having to swap cars early as a result of the damage, leaving him short of power to get to the end of the race. Bird also had a moment of his own, locking the brakes at Turn 5 and diving nose first into a barrier, ending any hope of a battle for victory.


Long Beach – 1976

Historic Race

Stirling Moss leans into the Mercedes of Juan Manuel Fangio at 1976 Long Beach Historic race

Moss and Fangio joined the grid at Long Beach

Alvis Upitis/Getty Images

Having signed a deal with F1 to stage its first US Grand Prix West in 1976, American promoters at Long Beach needed something a little extra to raise the interest of the US fan base. The answer? Perhaps the greatest historical support race of all time.

On a track that would later pave the way for the creation of more modern street circuits, motor sport legends of yesteryear turned out en masse to educate the spectators on F1’s historic lineage.

From the archive

Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Juan Manuel Fangio and Jack Brabham were among a list of 12 drivers who took to the Long Beach circuit ahead of its inaugural F1 race – sharing 10 F1 world drivers’ championships, 10 Monaco Grand Prix victories and six Le Mans victories between them.

Of course, this event was more of a showcase than an actual race, each driver given an historic car from motor sport history and tasked with simply pushing it as far as they dare. Limited by reliability issues of the period, only a handful of drivers actually made it to the podium, which was shared by Dan Gurney, Brabham and Fangio – the latter proving he could still compete at the highest level of motorsport, setting the fastest lap in his Mercedes (2.3 seconds quicker than the eventual race winner).

The inaugural F1 Long Beach Grand Prix was later won by Clay Regazzoni who won from pole position ahead of teammate Niki Lauda.