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STILL SAVORING the overwhelming success of the inaugural Circuit of the Americas Grand Prix in Austin, I thought about highs and lows of previous U.S. Grands Prix. Though I never attended Watkins Glen, I had good fun several times at Long Beach (sort of my home circuit), at Detroit and, most recently, at Indianapolis. I missed Riverside, Sebring, Dallas and Las Vegas, but did attend the 1989 Iceberg U.S.A. Grand Prix in Phoenix.
I dug out my pics, notes and other paraphernalia. Here’s a recap. Succinctly, it was a much different era. Phoenix’s first hosting (of three) Grands Prix came after Detroit’s last. Not unlike Detroit, Phoenix was a 2.36-mile street circuit set through the city’s downtown redevelopment.
Unlike Detroit, it lacked a nearby river sparkling in the sun.
Its June 4 date scared the hell out of those familiar with the area’s brutal heat. Indeed, Sunday’s race was run in sunny conditions at 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
A meager crowd of 31,441 got a good show, however. Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost were McLaren teammates, but hardly mates. Senna was on pole, but Prost had the better start, only to hit a bump sending revs against the limiter. Ayrton beat Alain to the first corner.
By lap 16, Senna stretched his first-lap 0.45-second lead to 4.25 sec. Then Prost’s engine started to overheat and he backed off for a lap.
Senna and Prost continued carving their way through city traffic until lap 34 when it became Ayrton’s turn to have engine trouble. Senna finally dropped out on the 44th lap, a rare retirement because of a Honda engine failure.
Prost had easy control, though the race for 2nd was hotly contested between Riccardo Patrese in his Williams-Renault and (Phoenix-born) Eddie Cheever in his Arrows-Ford.
The two-hour Grand Prix running limit was reached at lap 75, 6 before the scheduled distance. Prost had his sole U.S.G.P. win, almost 40 seconds ahead of Patrese. Cheever finished 3.5 sec behind the latter—with only one of his car’s four brakes still functioning. It was the ninth and last podium of Cheever’s F1 career.
Phoenix 1990 was held in March, with commensurately better weather. Senna and his McLaren won, though newcomer Jean Alesi in a usually midpack Tyrrell pressured him. In 1991, Senna won at Phoenix again in a race of attrition, only nine cars still running at the end.
And—for Phoenix—that was the end. Word came out that a local ostrich festival had drawn more people than the Grand Prix. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012