Long Beach – the sunny circuit

The United States Grand Prix West was a race held at Long Beach, California, as a Formula One world championship event from 1976 to 1983, on a tight circuit made up of city streets - a challenging and undulating track. The original 1976 layout would still be the dream circuit, with the Le Gasomet and Queen's Hairpins separated by a long sweeping straight along Shoreline Drive. A gruelling race that was very punishing on the car and driver and became the U.S.'s answer to the Monaco Grand Prix. The typically sunny and excellent Southern California weather and the Mediterranean climate there made for a very pleasant setting. In the mid-1970s, Long Beach was an austere, post-industrial city, struggling in the shadows of more glamorous neighbours - Los Angeles and San Diego.

The 1976 event was won by Swiss Clay Regazzoni in a Ferrari with his teammate Niki Lauda finishing 2nd and Patrick Depailler finishing 3rd while furiously charging through the field after an incident he had early in the race that knocked Hunt out. Susan Hunt shows up at the track with her new love Richard Burton.

In 1977, Andretti in a Lotus took victory, the first for an American in a US GP, Lauda took 2nd and the Wolf driver Jody Scheckter completed the podium with 3rd place. 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. Part of the interior of the circuit is the 13,600 seat Long Beach Convention Centre, which also doubled as the pit paddock.

In 1978, the start/finish line was moved to the long sweeping Shoreline Drive at the bottom of the circuit, so the race distance was 79.5 laps. The race was won by Argentine Carlos Reutemann, and Australian Alan Jones in a Williams finished a great 2nd place.

In 1979 Villeneuve won from his teammate Scheckter.

In 1980, Clay Regazzoni in an Ensign crashed appallingly when his brakes failed at 180 mph at the end of Shoreline Drive. While going off the course, the Swiss driver hit Ricardo Zunino's crashed and stationary Brabham at full speed. He then hit the wall next to the track and went straight-on past Queen's Hairpin and crashed into retaining tire barriers head-on, still moving extremely quickly. This devastating accident left him paralyzed from the waist down; he never raced in F1 again. Nelson Piquet dominated that race weekend with his countryman Emerson Fittipaldi taking 3rd.

In 1981, one of the left handers at Pine Avenue was re-made from two corners to one corner. After some laps Jones slipped by to take the lead, which he held until the end.

For 1982, there were more changes to the circuit, which removed Queen's Hairpin and most of Pine Avenue. A whole new section of road was used for the race; the Clos “esses” were changed and there was a chicane placed on Shoreline Drive. Thus, the race distance was shortened from 79.5 to 75.5 laps. Niki Lauda won the race from Finn Keke Rosberg in a Williams, and the Finn battled fiercely with Villeneuve in his more powerful turbo-charged Ferrari; Villeneuve finished 3rd but was disqualified because of the two wings mounted on the back of his car.

In the final event in 1983, the elevated Ocean Boulevard and the steep runs up to and down from it, were no longer used; and Seaside Way, a road (level with the rest of the circuit) that runs parallel to Ocean Boulevard, was used instead. The revised circuit also included a number of tight turns built around the Convention Centre and a slightly shortened Le Gasomet hairpin. The pits were moved down to Shoreline Drive. John Watson won from 22nd place on the grid and his teammate Lauda finished 2nd.

After the 1983, the event was deemed too expensive and risky to run any longer.

Dec 19, 2017