One of the most popular races on the IndyCar schedule, which has also held the longest-running event entitlement sponsorship in all major professional sports, will no longer have its title sponsor.
Toyota Motor North America on Thursday announced that after a 44-year run, it will no longer sponsor the Grand Prix of Long Beach – or to many, simply the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, issued the following statement:
“We have had a phenomenal relationship with Toyota for 44 years, a record in the racing world. In recent discussions, however, Toyota has elected not to renew as the title sponsor. This has now opened up an opportunity to identify a new title partner. Coming off a very successful 44th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, we’re excited about the future and are exploring all possible sponsorship opportunities that might exist in the market.
“Toyota came aboard our fledgling event in 1975 as Official Pace Car provider and in 1980, Toyota stepped up to become our entitlement sponsor and remained in that position for 39 years. In 1976, Toyota created the charitable Toyota ‘Race for Youth’ Match Race which would become the world-famous Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race starting in 1977, continuing for the next 40 years.
“Among the many beneficiaries of this race were the Children’s Hospitals of Long Beach and Orange County. Together, over the years, we were able to build the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach into America’s #1 Street Race.
“On behalf of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, I would like to thank Toyota for all that it did to help us grow our event and make it what it is today. We are proud to have had Toyota be the most prominent of our sponsor partners for so many years.”
Even though Toyota will no longer be sponsor, Michaelian assured racing fans that the 2019 Grand Prix of Long Beach will go on as scheduled April 12-14.
Toyota reportedly had told both race promoters and city officials back in April, at the conclusion of its most recent three-year contract, that it would not return. This despite drawing an event record 185,000-plus for this year’s event.
The company’s Twitter account — @ToyotaGPLB — has already been changed to @GPLongBeach.
“Toyota has had an incredibly successful 44 year-run as the entitlement sponsor of the Grand Prix of Long Beach,” Toyota said in a statement. “We value the relationship we’ve built over those years, but feel it is in the best interest of Toyota to no longer be the entitlement sponsor.”
Thursday’s announcement was “not a huge surprise,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia told The Orange County Register.
“Once (Toyota) made the decision to move of their operations out of Southern California and over to Texas, I think a lot of us wondered if that relationship would continue,” Garcia told The Register. “So it’s unfortunate, but we’re very grateful to them.
“They were here for a very long time, and I’m confident the Grand Prix will find another great sponsor.”
IndyCar officials have not released a statement about Toyota’s departure.