As organizers of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach have been spinning their wheels trying to negotiate a new lease for the signature event, a new group, or rather an old one, is looking to enter the race.
The City Council meets in closed session today to discuss the lease it holds with the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, which expires next year.
The Grand Prix Association has organized the three-day race series in Long Beach since 1975 and celebrates its 40th annual race this year and has been seeking a five-year extension to its deal with the city. However, representatives with the FIA Formula One World Championship have shown interest in bidding for the lease. The group was the first to race in the Long Beach Grand Prix, competing here from 1976 to 1983.
According to Chris Pook, who was hired by Formula One to find a Southern California venue for its series, F1 President and CEO Bernie Ecclestone wrote a letter to Mayor Bob Foster last year indicating his interest in returning to Long Beach.
Pook led the effort to bring a Grand Prix to Long Beach and was at the helm for F1's arrival and departure. He left the Grand Prix Association in 2001.
“I want to reiterate this is just to make an offer just so (the city) can see the alternative. If they like it, fine. If they don't, we'll move on,” he said.
As shots across the bow go, this one has certainly caught the attention of the Grand Prix Association.
Jim Michaelian, who succeeded Pook as CEO of the Grand Prix Association, wonders why the city would consider messing with what he says can “only be described as an extraordinary relationship” between the city and the Grand Prix spanning 39 years.
“We have met or exceeded all the expectations,” Michaelian said. “We've been classified the No. 1 street race in the United States. We bring in 175,000 fans over the weekend. $30 (million) to $35 million in economic impact. We do it without any drama and pay all our bills in full.”
The drama comment is notable. F1 has had less-than-seamless efforts to stage races in places such as New Jersey, where an F1 Grand Prix was announced in 2011 and still hasn't happened. Proposed races in 2013 and 2014 were both scrapped.
However, Pook contends that F1 would bring significantly more domestic and international clout to Long Beach. He also claims the race would not cost Long Beach anything.
“What these events are all about is how much in added revenue can you bring in?” he said.
A letter of opinion on the economic impact of an F1 race, commissioned by Pook and written in part by Michael Solt, dean of the Cal State Long Beach School of Business, estimated an impact of $100 million, plus an additional $190 million worth of worldwide television exposure.
The costs, however, of producing a Formula 1 event versus IndyCars is something else altogether. Part of the genesis for Long Beach to drop F1 in favor to CART was increased fees by the European series. Top F1 teams, such as Ferrari, spend more than $470 million, while top IndyCar teams like Ganassi and Andretti AutoSports have budgets of about $15 million.
It is also likely that changes in the circuit and infrastructure would all have to be threshed out.