Five Long Beach Classic Races

Along with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Long Beach, California street circuit has hosted more races than any other venue on the current NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule.

From Mario Andretti winning three of the first four races to Al Unser Jr. dominating “The Beach” for the better part of a decade to Sebastien Bourdais’ hat-trick in the 2000s, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach has Shown drivers and elite racing teams since 1984.

Seven drivers in Sunday’s 85-lap race (3 pm ET, NBC, Peacock Premium and INDYCAR Radio Network) won races on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile circuit, with Will Power and Alexander Rossi each winning twice. Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing are tied with Newman-Haas Racing for the most wins per team (six each).

With 37 races organized since 1984, it’s hard to pick the best of the best from Long Beach. However, let’s try it.

1986: Michael Andretti won 42 races in his INDYCAR SERIES career, with the first and last coming at Long Beach. This was the first, and it put an end to his father’s bet for a three-time championship. The final 25 laps featured some of the most exciting action in street racing history, with Andretti and Unser Jr. racing like the generational talents they were. Unser made his final pit stop on lap 69 and returned to the track just ahead of Andretti. But with cold tyres, Unser was unable to hold off Andretti. Andretti passed Unser on the back straight and pulled away a bit until he reached the back of Roberto Moreno’s lapped car. At the end of the backstretch, Andretti and Moreno almost touched, causing Andretti to lock the brakes. That hesitation allowed Unser to pull alongside him in a drag race through Turn 10, but Andretti barely stopped him approaching the hairpin. Andretti escaped that moment and held Unser back the rest of the way, a .380-second split that for 30 years stood as the closest finish in the event’s history.

1991: Al Unser Jr. took an unprecedented fourth consecutive victory in the event, but much of the attention was focused on a sequence surrounding the final pit stop of the race. John Andretti, who had won the season-opening race in Australia, caused the yellow flag with wall contact on the front straight. The leaders went to pit road, with Unser making a clean escape. Poleman Michael Andretti was not so lucky. Andretti was hurrying out after his stop when the Penske team pulled Emerson Fittipaldi out of his pit box. With another driver’s pit-ready tires in front of him, Fittipaldi went wide and blocked Andretti’s path. The two cars made hard wheel contact, launching Andretti’s car through the air and almost onto the top of it. Fittipaldi was able to pull away, but damage to the left sidepod spilled fluid onto the track, which the pace car driven by Johnny Rutherford passed through, causing it to slide into the tire barrier. Unser held off Bobby Rahal for the win.

1998: The race which featured Bobby Rahal’s last trip to Long Beach, and the first event of its kind for rookies Tony Kanaan and Helio Castro-Neves (yes, his name was hyphenated at the time), featured significant attrition. Among them: Michael Andretti’s car made contact with and from multiple cars, the track locked up at the hairpin, and Paul Tracy’s car went vertical after contact with Christian Fittipaldi. Reigning series champion Alex Zanardi, who started 11th, fell a lap behind early due to contact that bent a steering arm, but managed to get back on the lead lap and worked his way through the field. Zanardi pitted for the last time on lap 72 when the leaders stayed out until the last stops in the closing laps. The race seemed decided by polesitter Bryan Herta and Dario Franchitti, but Zanardi was charging. All three cars were glued to the tail with five laps to go, at which point Zanardi passed Franchitti for second place. With two laps to go, Zanardi passed Herta in a tight corner for the lead (Franchitti also passed Herta) and won for the second year in a row. Zanardi’s win was one of seven for him that season, fueling his second straight title. WATCH: 1998 race

2013: Long Beach has been the site of many first-time winners in INDYCAR SERIES history, including Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mike Conway and, in the 30th edition, Takuma Sato. The driver who nearly took his first series victory in the 2012 Indianapolis 500 when he crashed trying to pass Dario Franchitti in Turn 1 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway took control of this race on Lap 23 when he passed Ryan Hunter-Reay for second place. After other drivers made their pit stops, Sato took the lead on lap 31 and didn’t give up, leading the final 50 laps. The win was also big for AJ Foyt Racing, which hadn’t won a race since Airton Dare’s triumph in 2002 at Kansas Speedway. WATCH: 2013 race

2021: Due to the continuing effects of the pandemic, last year’s race was the first of the INDYCAR SERIES held in Long Beach outside of April and became the season finale. Alex Palou entered with a 35-point lead in the series over Pato O’Ward and a 48-point lead over Josef Newgarden, which meant the Spaniard had to finish no worse than 11th to clinch the title. O’Ward and Newgarden badly needed to qualify on pole to earn the bonus point for the NTT P1 Award, and Newgarden pulled it off as O’Ward and Palou qualified eighth and tenth, respectively. O’Ward had his hopes dashed on the first lap when his car was taken out of the race with a broken driveshaft due to contact from Ed Jones. While Palou drove a smart and controlled race, Newgarden did everything he could to win his third career championship but fell short finishing second to Colton Herta while Palou finished fourth. Herta’s victory was the second in a row at the end of the season and the third overall of the year. WATCH: Highlights from the 2021 extended race

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