OCTOBER 2, 2001
Where does F1 go next in the USA?
FORMULA 1 needs to expand its schedule to include two races in the USA if it is to seriously re-establish the benchmark popularity it enjoyed during the 1970s and 80s. That was the view of expatriate Englishman Chris Pook, founder of the Long Beach Grand Prix, when he visited Indianapolis last weekend for the US Grand Prix which was won by Mika Hakkinen.
"It would be good if there could be another race somewhere in the States following Montreal in the summer," he said. However, he said he doubted that Long Beach might be a potential venue as the event probably could not afford the cost of an F1 race.
Pook's imaginative and entrepreneurial flair pioneered the Long Beach race in the mid-1970s. He originally persuaded the city fathers that it would be a great means of promoting the Californian coastal city which was then rather run-down distant suburb of Los Angeles. The circuit hosted a Formula 5000 event as a warm-up in the autumn of 1975, won by Brian Redman, and then hosted its first World Championship Grand Prix the following year.
The race ran successfully through to 1983 after which Pook failed to strike a deal with Bernie Ecclestone to secure its continuation as an F1 event. Instead, he switched to a CART fixture which has thrived ever since as one of the most popular and successful races on the Champcar schedule.
F1 in the US, which had thrived since 1959, thereafter started to come unraveled. We had already lost Watkins Glen in 1980 after the US Grand Prix had taken place on this popular upstate New York circuit ever since 1961. Detroit joined the schedule in 1982 and lasted until 1988. Dallas was a one-off in 1984. Then we raced through the streets of Phoenix, Arizona, in 1989 and 90. On one occasion there the organizers claimed 60,000 people attended practice, prompting one commentator to write "If they did, then 50,000 of them came disguised as empty grandstand seats!"
Many people believe that a second US Grand Prix venue should be found at Las Vegas, another brief stopping point on the F1 schedule in 1981 and 82. Hopefully not on the Caesars Palace circuit, however, which was nothing more than a corridor of temporary concrete barriers laid out in the huge car park of the famous gambling center. No question about it, a new, purpose-built track would have to be constructed there.
However, any expansion of F1 in the USA must be set in the context of how US domestic motor racing evolves over the next couple of years. It is clear that the Indy Racing League will eventually claim victory in its battle for pre-eminence over CART, if for no other reason than Tony George holds the ace card in the form of the Indianapolis 500. Most engine suppliers are set to move to the IRL over the next couple of years and British chassis constructors Lola and Reynard are also set to go with this particular flow.
However, with the IRL dedicated exclusively to oval racing, it remains to be seen whether the rump of CART will survive in some secondary way, continuing to supply its excellent racing on street and road circuits which will otherwise lose their events completely in the event of the IRL wiping CART from the map completely.
In such circumstances, the Long Beach race's future could obviously be jeopardized. Yet it's likely that Chris Pook has worked that out a long time ago and is ready with any contingency plans should he need them.
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