Is The ‘Grand Prix Of Monaco’ In The U.S. Running On Fumes?
After 39 years, Toyota has ended its sponsorship of the longest-running street race in America, the Long Beach Grand Prix in Long Beach, CA.
Once considered the “Monaco Grand Prix of the United States,” it is still the signature event of the IndyCar Series outside of the Indianapolis 500.
It had been the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach since 1980. The event began in 1975 as a F5000 race, then Formula 1 came in and in 1984 switched to IndyCars.
The race almost collapsed as soon as it began but one moment in 1977 may have saved it. Mario Andretti, one of the biggest names in the sport at the time, won the race, becoming the first American to win a U.S. Grand Prix.
A few years later, it was decided to swap F1 for IndyCars to appeal more to the American audience and every major driver seemed to make his mark in Long Beach: Mario’s son Michael Andretti, Danny Sullivan, Alex Zanardi and most of all, 5-time winner Al Unser, Jr., who earned the nickname of “King of the Beach.”
Mayor Robert Garcia cited the fact Toyota moved its headquarters from Torrance to Texas but the race was actually sponsored by the Toyota Dealers of Southern California, not corporate Toyota.
A couple years earlier, Toyota pulled out of its long-running Pro/Celebrity race, ending that popular part of the Grand Prix.
Officials are seeking a new title sponsor – Honda seems a natural fit – and dates are set for 2019 from April 12-14. But for now, the future of the race is, like Leeza Gibbons once was during the Pro/Celebrity race, up in the air.