Simanaitis Says

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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.

Here’s my credential. In preparing this image, I learned something interesting: It refused to be scanned. Do you suppose this is the purpose of those wavy lines?

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.

In fact, the course wasn’t as purely rectilinear as this map suggests. Corners varied in their divergence from an exact 90 degrees.

Unlike Detroit, it lacked a nearby river sparkling in the sun.

Not that Phoenix Grand Prix didn’t have its glamour.

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.

It was still cool—and utterly empty—at dawn on race day when I took this photo from my hotel room.

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.

First corner: Senna and Prost in their McLarens, then Alessandro Nannini’s Benetton and a gaggle of others. Image from Autoweek.

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.

Riccardo Patrese pilots his Williams-Renault through downtown. He eventually finished 2nd.

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.

Like other U.S. venues, Phoenix had course workers from the ranks of SCCA and other national organizations. The car is Derek Warwick’s Arrows-Ford; his teammate Eddie Cheever finished 3rd.

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.

This pitstop of Nigel Mansell’s Ferrari shows that the team had yet to have modern F1 discipline—or attire.

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,, 2012

2 comments on “PHOENIX GRAND PRIX 1989

  1. Phoenix resident
    March 4, 2014

    How much were the tickets for this 1989 event? I looked up weather history data and it was 97f degrees that day, not bad for june day. I live in phoenix and 97f is considered cool day during summer. I wonder why did this F1 event go bust? Please send me a message I would like to talk to you about it. Thanks

  2. Warren Long
    September 24, 2016

    Just stumbled across your website when I was looking for photos of the 1989 Phoenix F1 race. I drove down from Canada to see it. And also just recently went down and watched the Austin F1 race in the pouring rain. Thanks for putting this page together.

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This entry was posted on November 30, 2012 by in Classic Bits and tagged .
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