Next to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the street circuit in Long Beach, California, has hosted more races than any location 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’ three-peat in the 2000s, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach has showcased open-wheel racing’s elite drivers and teams since 1984.
Seven drivers in Sunday’s 85-lap race (3 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network) have won races on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile circuit, with Will Power and Alexander Rossi having won twice each. Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing are tied with Newman-Haas Racing for the most wins by a team (six each).
With 37 races staged since 1984, it’s difficult to select Long Beach’s best of the best. Yet, let’s try.
1986: Michael Andretti won 42 races in his INDYCAR SERIES career, and his first and last were in Long Beach. This was his first, and it ended his father’s bid for a three-peat. The final 25 laps featured some of the most thrilling action in street course history, with Andretti and Unser Jr. dueling like the generational talents they were. Unser made his final pit stop on Lap 69 and returned to the track just in front of Andretti. But with cold tires, Unser couldn’t hold off Andretti. Andretti passed Unser on the backstretch and pulled away slightly until arriving at the back of Roberto Moreno’s lapped car. At the end of the backstretch, Andretti and Moreno nearly touched, causing Andretti to lock his brakes. That hesitation allowed Unser to draw alongside in a drag race through Turn 10, but Andretti barely held him off approaching the hairpin. Andretti escaped that moment and held Unser off the rest of the way, a separation of .380 of a second, which for 30 years stood as the closest finish in event history.
1991: Al Unser Jr. scored an unprecedented fourth consecutive win in the event, but much of the attention was on a sequence surrounding the race’s final pit stop. John Andretti, who had won the season-opening race in Australia, brought out the caution with wall contact on the front straightaway. The leaders went to pit road, with Unser getting away cleanly. Pole sitter Michael Andretti was not as fortunate. Andretti was hustling out following his stop when Team Penske released Emerson Fittipaldi from his pit box. With tires laid out for another driver’s pit stop in front of him, Fittipaldi exited wide and blocked the path of Andretti. The two cars made hard wheel contact, launching Andretti’s car in the air and nearly on its lid. Fittipaldi was able to drive away, but left sidepod damage spilled fluid on the track, which the pace car driven by Johnny Rutherford drove through, causing a slide into the tire barrier. Unser held off Bobby Rahal for the victory.
1998: The race featuring Bobby Rahal’s last trip to Long Beach, and the first such event for rookies Tony Kanaan and Helio Castro-Neves – yes, his name was being hyphenated at the time – featured significant attrition. Among them: Michael Andretti’s car had contact with and from several cars, the track got blocked at the hairpin, and Paul Tracy’s car got vertical after contact with Christian Fittipaldi. Reigning series champion Alex Zanardi, who started 11th, fell a lap down early due to contact that bent a steering arm, but he managed to get back on the lead lap and worked his way through the field. Zanardi pitted for the final time on Lap 72 as the frontrunners stayed out until final splash-and-go stops in the closing laps. The race appeared set to be decided by pole winner Bryan Herta and Dario Franchitti, but Zanardi was charging. The three cars were nose to tail with five laps to go, which is when Zanardi passed Franchitti for second. With two laps to go, Zanardi passed Herta in a tight corner for the lead – Franchitti also muscled past Herta -- and went on to win for the second straight year. Zanardi’s victory was one of his seven that season, fueling his second consecutive 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 running, Takuma Sato. The driver who nearly scored his first series win 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 cycled through their pit stops, Sato took the lead on Lap 31 and did not give it up, leading the final 50 laps. The victory also was big for AJ Foyt Racing, which hadn’t won a race since Airton Dare triumphed in 2002 at Kansas Speedway. WATCH: 2013 Race
2021: Due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic, last year’s race was the first for the INDYCAR SERIES held at Long Beach outside of April, and it became the season finale. Alex Palou entered with a 35-point series lead over Pato O’Ward and a 48-point advantage 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 the pole to earn the NTT P1 Award bonus point, and Newgarden achieved that as O’Ward and Palou qualified eighth and 10th, respectively. O’Ward had his hopes dashed on the opening lap when his car was knocked out of the race with a broken driveshaft due to contact from Ed Jones. As Palou drove a smart, controlled race, Newgarden did everything he could to win his third career championship, but he fell short by finishing second to Colton Herta as Palou finished fourth. Herta’s victory was his second in succession to end the season and his third overall for the year. WATCH: 2021 Race Extended Highlights