Council May Consider Opening Long Beach Grand Prix To Bid from F1 (2nd Update)

UPDATE #2 This rumor is downgraded to 'false' with the news (See report) that Long Beach will stick with IndyCar at least through 2015.

Start of 1983 LB GP – the last F1 race before CART took over

03/01/14 Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone evidently wants it back. And a closed-door session of the Long Beach City Council on Tuesday will determine if the contract will be put up for bid.

"What will transpire Tuesday night is that the city council will vote on whether they wish to issue an RFP (Request For Proposal) to determine whether Long Beach will continue with the IndyCar weekend and the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach or consider another party that wants to conduct a Formula 1 race," said Jim Michaelian, the GPALB president and CEO who is currently preparing for the 40th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 11-13.

"Our contract runs through 2015 and we are asking the city to extend this very productive relationship for another five years if the RFP is denied."

Of course, the irony of this is that F1 helped put Long Beach on the map by running from 1976-'83 after founder Chris Pook debuted his Monaco-like idea in 1975 with a Formula 5000 race. Pook opted to drop Ecclestone for the less-expensive Championship Auto Racing Teams in 1984 and it's either been a CART, Champ Car or IndyCar event ever since. But, as the rights holder to F1 in Southern California, Pook is now trying to help Ecclestone get back into the city that was modernized and revitalized by auto racing.

"We learned last June that the contract doesn't have an automatic renewal on it and the only thing we want to do is bid on it," said Pook, who sold GPALB to Dover Downs Entertainment in 1998 and the race is now owned by current IndyCar owner Kevin Kalkhoven and partner Gerry Forsythe, a longtime CART regular.

"We just want to demonstrate what F1 economics can do for the city."

Thanks to Toyota, the title sponsor for 35 consecutive years, Long Beach was able to weather the CART/Indy Racing League split, CART's bankruptcy, the Champ Car era and the unification of open-wheel in 2008. Long Beach doesn't have the massive crowds it did from 1980-'83 in F1 or from 1988-'98 in CART but it's regained some momentum the past few years.

"We've always met or exceeded or commitment to the city and we've continued to be a substantial contributor to the overall economy of Long Beach," said Michaelian, a mainstay at Long Beach since the inception of the race and Pook's right-hand-man for 25 years.

It's not known how much money Ecclestone requires but it's substantially more than IndyCar's sanction fee and it's believed several million dollars would be needed to upgrade the track, paddock and lengthen the course for F1.

Regardless of what happens Tuesday, Pook promises: "Formula 1 will be in Southern California by 2016." Robin Miller/


Will IndyCar lose its marquee event to F1? And why isn't IndyCar going after the NJ race that F1 failed to make happen?

Long Beach’s City Council will meet in closed session Tuesday, apparently to discuss whether to put a contract for the annual Grand Prix of Long Beach out for bid.

The Grand Prix Association of Long Beach has contracted to put on the race for the last 39 years, and will present the 40th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 11-13. The GPALB currently has a contract with IndyCar to be the marquee race of the weekend, and is contracted with the city through 2015 to use the streets of Long Beach to put on the race.

Last May, Formula One owner Bernie Ecclestone wrote a letter to Mayor Bob Foster saying that his organization is interested in bidding on the right to put a race on in Long Beach. At the same time, Formula One contracted with Chris Pook – the founder of the Long Beach Grand Prix as a consultant to bring the premiere open-wheel series back to the United States.

Plans at that time were for a race in New Jersey, with a second possible in Texas. The firs United States Grand Prix took place in 2012 in Austin, Texas, and a second ran Nov. 17, 2013, with a reported crowd of more than 113,000.

Ecclestone’s May letter said, “Please be advised that Formula 1 is interested in returning to your city, and we will consider the appropriate entity to make such a bid if you decide to permit such a process."

But at the time, GPALB CEO Jim Michaelian said that the group was happy with IndyCar and would be negotiating with that group for continued sanctioning. No action was taken by city officials on the Formula One letter.

The agenda for Tuesday’s closed session says it is in regards to price and terms of the lease to use Shoreline Drive and surrounding streets and property. The negotiating parties are listed as the city, GPALB LLC and FIA Formula One World Championship.

City Attorney Charles Parkin said the timing for the meeting is consistent with past discussions to renew the GPALB’s five-year lease – typically more than a year before the current term expires. Formula One was added to the agenda, Parkin said, because they had expressed interest. There had not been a reason to consider opening the bid to a Request For Proposal process in the past.

If the council decides it wants to open the race lease to bid, it would have to do so in a public session, Parkin said.

Formula One ran in Long Beach for seven years before Pook and the GPALB switched to the less expensive IndyCars, then operating as Championship Auto Racing Teams. Pook took the GPALB public in 1996 and sold the company in 1998 to Dover Downs Entertainment Inc. The company is currently privately owned by Kevin Kalkhoven and Jerry Forsythe. Kalkhoven also is a principal in the KV Racing Technologies team, which fields a car in the IndyCar series.

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