Phoenix street circuit
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The track in 1989 and 1990
The track in 1991
|Location||Phoenix, Arizona, United States|
|Major events||Formula One|
|Length||3.72 km (2.312 mi)|
|Lap record||1:21.434 (Ayrton Senna, McLaren-Honda, 1991)|
The Formula One United States Grand Prix was held on the Phoenix street circuit in Phoenix, Arizona, between 1989 and 1991. It was held in downtown by the Phoenix Civic Plaza and the America West Arena, prior to the introduction of the state's baseball stadium, Bank One Ballpark. The United States Grand Prix lasted in Phoenix for three years, but was ultimately dropped due to poor fan turnout. There were no further Formula 1 races in the US until the Indianapolis Motor Speedway first held a Grand Prix in 2000.
The city of Detroit, which had held a Formula One race on its streets from 1982 to 1988, lost the race in October 1988 when city officials refused to invest money in building the improved pits and garages that Formula One officials wanted for the 1989 season. Jack Long, a race promoter who hed the contract for the Canadian Grand Prix, then stepped up talks with the city of Phoenix and Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California. Laguna Seca's chances eventually faded because roads to the track could not handle large crowd sizes, and the County of Monterey, which controls the track, had several stipulations, including an attendance cap. Jack Tevlin, special assistant to the Phoenix city manager, said that the city decided three years ago to hold a race to get global exposure and encourage economic development in the area. The suggestion came from Howard Pynn, a Scottsdale businessman and race fan. On January 13, 1989, the Phoenix City Council approved a five-year contract with Jack Long and Bernie Ecclestone, F1's commercial rights holder, to promote and run the race. Phoenix city council also voted to spend $9 million of tax payer's money on race circuit infrastructure over the 5 years. It was well known to organizers that Phoenix can be very hot during summer, but nonetheless, Phoenix inherited the Detroit race's scheduled slot of 4 June 1989.  The city had only 4 months to finish the 2.36 mile long circuit in time, which required fencing off and repaving the road surface, building grandstands, garages for the pit crew, and other infrastructure. The project was so massive that local media joked that the city looked as if it was preparing for a Soviet invasion.
In the inaugural race in 1989, Ayrton Senna took pole in his McLaren-Honda but suffered an electronic failure a little over halfway through the race. The scorching heat of the Phoenix desert made it a nightmare on the teams and drivers and of the 26 cars that started the race, only six finished. Alain Prost, Senna's teammate, won the race ahead of Riccardo Patrese and Phoenix native Eddie Cheever. Fourth-placed Christian Danner scored what turned out to be his final points-scoring finish. His Rial team also would never score points in Formula One competition again.
In an attempt to beat the scorching Arizona heat, the event was moved to become the season opener the next year, held on March 11, 1990. Senna recovered from his near miss in '89 to win the Grand Prix. Jean Alesi finished 2nd, making his mark as a driver to watch in the future as he pressured the Brazilian world champion in a Tyrrell, a car that was average at best compared to the McLaren. Alesi's teammate, Satoru Nakajima, also scored a point in that race. The event was the only time a Minardi made it onto the front row of the grid, as Pierluigi Martini qualified 2nd behind Gerhard Berger.
The last United States Grand Prix held in Phoenix was on March 10, 1991, with Senna again claiming victory. Again reliability was a factor, with only nine cars still running at the end of the race. For a second straight season both Tyrrells finished in the points; Stefano Modena, who had replaced the Ferrari-bound Alesi, in fourth heading Nakajima in fifth. The death blow for the organizers came when word arose that a local ostrich festival had drawn more people than the Grand Prix.
- The New York Times, Joseph Siano January 30, 1989.
- New site for grand prix race,Observer Reporter Washington, associated press June 4th 1989
- The Phoenix New Times, The Less Than Grand Prix by Tom Fitzpatrick Wednesday, May 10 1989
- "Prost Gains 1st Victory of Year;Wins Phoenix Grand Prix", The Washington Post, 5 June 1989