CART/Champ Car

April 16 in Motorsports History: A controversial win at Long Beach

Leave a comment

While the Long Beach Grand Prix has been incredibly kind to the Andretti family, the 1989 edition of the race is one that Mario Andretti likely does not remember too fondly.

By the late 1980s, Andretti had won a Formula One race at the famed street course in 1977, and three of the first four CART-sanctioned events at Long Beach in 1984, ’85 and ’87. His son Michael won his first race there in ’86.

But on April 16, 1989, Mario’s bid for “King of the Beach” unofficially was snatched away by defending Long Beach winner Al Unser Jr.

Starting from the pole position, Unser dominated early and seemed on track for his second-consecutive victory in the event.

Meanwhile, Andretti qualified fifth and slowly worked his way to the front. While Unser clearly had the faster car, he had to slow his pace to save fuel. By then, Andretti had reached second, and with the help of a quick pit stop, he emerged from the pit cycle just ahead of Unser.

As they entered Turn 3 on Lap 84, they approached the lapped car of Tom Sneva. Unser drove under Andretti for the lead but made contact and caused Andretti to spin.

While Andretti’s day was done, Unser’s car continued to run without a front wing through the checkered flag. Unser’s victory was his second in a four-race win streak at Long Beach that dubbed him “King of the Beach.”

Andretti finished 18th and confronted Unser in victory lane.

“I find it very difficult to congratulate him of course,” Andretti told ABC Sports. “He blatantly just spun me out of the way. If that’s the way he wants to play, it’s pretty sorry. It’s a pretty sorry drive, really.”

Unser said he had ‘mixed emotions’ about the incident.

“I ain’t putting the blame on anybody,” Unser said. “It’s my fault because I did the hitting, but goddang it, they all stopped in front of me and couldn’t help it.”

Also on this date:

2000: Paul Tracy started Long Beach from 17th but worked his way to first place by Lap 62 to win the race for the second time in his career. Tracy would win twice more at Long Beach in 2003-04.

2016: A daring inside pass for the lead in the first corner was all Ricky Taylor needed to set the tone for IMSA’s Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach. He and his younger brother, Jordan, cruised to an overall win in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP, leading all but two laps.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994