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SPORTS EXTRA / FOCUS ON MOTOR SPORTS: LONG BEACH GRAND
PRIX

The Grandest of Them All

1997 Race Emerges as the Unanimous Favorite in Survey

April 15, 1999

The task seemed simple enough: Pick the five best from the 24 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach races.

A panel of five was selected to exercise that judgment--Chris Pook, founder of the event; Jim Michaelian, chief operating officer for the LBGP; Hank Ives, first LBGP public relations director; Dan Gurney, an original board member, and Shav Glick, Times motorsports writer.

There wasn't a whole lot of agreement, except for the 1977 Formula One race won by Mario Andretti with a dramatic late pass of South Africa's Jody Scheckter. It was a unanimous choice.

Ten races received mention, an indication of what tight racing has gone on for 24 years on the streets of Long Beach in Formula 5000, Formula One and now CART champ cars.

Three, the 1975 inaugural Formula 5000 race won by Brian Redman, the 1983 final Formula One race won by John Watson and last year's CART champ car race won by Alex Zanardi, received four votes.

Glick did not select 1975's race, Gurney skipped 1983's and Ives left off 1998's.

Other votes were widely spread. Only two races, 1986's and 1989's, were named twice. Getting one vote each were the races in 1987, 1988, 1990 and 1997.

The chosen five (actually six, because of a tie vote):

* 1977 (five votes)--The race that saved the Long Beach Grand Prix. It started with a violent wreck involving world champion James Hunt and Watson in what Hunt called too tight a first turn. And it ended with Andretti in front after trailing Scheckter for 77 of the 80 laps.

"For all the obvious reasons, this is the one that put [the race] on the racing map," Michaelian said.

* 1975 (four votes)--"This one belongs on the list just because it happened," Ives said.

There were 46,000 fans on hand, many watching from the windows of buildings along Ocean Boulevard. For most of the Formula 5000 race, Tony Brise, in Teddy Yip's Lola, battled Al Unser and Mario Andretti in Viceroy Lolas. When all three had mechanical problems, Redman motored on to win in Jim Hall's Boraxo Lola. It clinched the F5000 championship for the veteran Yorkshireman.

* 1983 (four votes)--The last Formula One race turned out to be the most exciting as Watson and Niki Lauda came from the last row to finish first and second. In little-noticed support races, Michael Andretti won in a Super Vee and Scott Pruett won a go-kart invitational.

* 1998 (four votes)--After involvement in a 10-car pile-up that blocked the track, Zanardi lost a lap when he stalled his engine, but the Italian champion gained his lap back and took out after the pack. On the next-to-last lap, Zanardi made a bold move to pass the leader, Brian Herta, and won his second consecutive Long Beach race.

* 1986 (two votes)--Michael Andretti scored his first Indy car win by .38 of a second in Maury Kraines' Kraco March over Al Unser Jr., with Geoff Brabham third in what was to become a great second-generation rivalry. Most memorable was a pass on Lap 80 when Andretti swept by Roberto Moreno on the outside and Unser went by on the inside at the same time.

* 1989 (two votes)--It was the year the winner got booed. Twelve laps from the end, Al Unser Jr. tried to pass Mario Andretti at the start of the third turn. When Unser locked up his brakes, he rammed Andretti and spun him out of the race. Unser lost his left front wing, but managed to finish the race ahead of Michael Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi. On his victory lap, Unser was roundly booed by third-turn spectators.

Races named on one ballot:

* 1987--Mario Andretti led from start to finish, winning by more than a lap over runner-up Al Unser Jr.

* 1988--Al Unser Jr. lost 40 seconds in the pits with a cross-threaded wheel nut, but came out to run away with the race. His margin was a lap plus 33 seconds.

* 1990--Another victory by Al Unser Jr. after a tense race with Fittipaldi and Danny Sullivan.

* 1997--Gil de Ferran looked as if he would be an easy winner before losing his suspension late in the race, allowing Zanardi to take the checkered flag.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Best of Long Beach

A panel of five was selected to pick the five best from the 24 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach races--Chris Pook, founder of the event; Jim Michaelian, chief operating officer for the LBGP; Hank Ives, first LBGP public relations director; Dan Gurney, an original board member, and Shav Glick, Times motorsports writer:

*--*

Gurney Pook Ives Glick Michaelian 1975 1975 1975 1977 1975 1977 1977 1977 1983 1977 1988 1983 1983 1986 1983 1997 1987 1986 1989 1990 1998 1998 1989 1998 1998

*--*

Note: Selections listed in chronological order.

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