Long Beach, home to Grand Prix races since the mid-1970s in sunny Southern California.
As the longest-running active street circuit in the US, the curves comprised of Shoreline Drive, Seaside Way, South Chestnut Place, and Aquarium Way have been host to Formula One, Formula 5000, Formula E, Formula Drift, and plenty of other series that do not include the ‘Formula’ distinction. Namely, IndyCar, which is naturally the main event in the streets of Long Beach today.
The track was initially the brainchild of Englishman Chris Pook, who is said to have been inspired by the Monaco Grand Prix — and who wouldn’t be?! At least eight principle layouts have been utilized since the first event in 1975, and the current 11-turn format has been in place since 2000. It’s amazing to see the area transformed, and odder still to travel these very same streets in my own Lexus within days of an IMSA-spec IS F barreling around with an average speed just shy of 90mph (145km/h).
Building up to the sports car and open-wheel races, there’s always plenty to see on track if you can make it out for the full weekend, or even one full 12-ish-hour day in the streets.
The longer of these long days comes courtesy of Formula D’s evening takeover, one weekend after their sanctioned event that counts toward the championship. Which, by the way, is coming to a close soon in Irwindale.
This weekend is really all about fun, though, for the drifters as well as the fans. The latter of which can be seen hanging out in, around, and off of just about every structure surrounding the track as well as the ones within it. On the topic of fun, the two-seater looks as though it might be a whole lot it.
In the drift comp there are no points involved, nor a prize for winning anymore. But there are indeed winners, as well as some sparkling liquids come the end of the night.
I made it to competition two on Saturday evening, which saw the few grandstands around turns 9, 10, and 11 more full than at any prior point of the weekend. Justin Pawlak ended up taking the top spot of the night with an anticlimactic bye run for the win.Vintage In The Streets
During the day, another type of beast could be found prowling through the streets.
While I wouldn’t consider myself a vintage open-wheel enthusiast by any stretch, I was actually really excited to see that historic Formula Atlantic cars would be gracing my eyes all weekend.
Conceived of and constructed very much in the same timeframe as the Long Beach Grand Prix itself, it always feels like these kind of cars just belong on a street course.
The layout used in the 1970s and early-1980s was riddled with more hairpins and chicanes, and I wish it wasn’t impossible to rearrange the barricades and shut down several more streets — as well as probably demolish a few buildings — so that we could more fully relive the race experience from five decades ago. While I’m dreaming, I’m sure that there are plenty of existing Formula One cars from the period to have a proper race here as well.
Long Beach’s first Formula One winner was Clay Regazzoni, driving a Ferrari not unlike the one we see him and Niki Lauda behind the wheel of in Rush. Of course, Niki won here himself with McLaren in 1982, but a different driver always comes to mind when I think of Long Beach.
That would be Mario Andretti, who I saw casually meandering through the Hyatt hotel in the center of the track. He won here four times, first as a Formula One driver and then in the CART series, the predecessor to IndyCar as we know it today. His son also tallied his first race win here as well as his last, and grandson Marco has also hit the streets of Long Beach with IndyCar.
There’s been plenty of history made on these streets, and more to come. Check back soon for IndyCar, IMSA, and Global Time Attack coverage from Long Beach 2021.