The Phoenix Street Circuit was a temporary venue located in the heart of the desert city of Phoenix, Arizona. Used for the United States Grand Prix between 1989 and 1991, the circuit was uninteresting and poorly attended. After losing a great deal of money in three years, the event was quietly dropped from the calendar.
Towards the end of the 1980's, FOCA boss, Bernie Ecclestone had begun to charge a much higher premium in order to allow race organisers to host a Formula One event. From 1982 to 1988, the Detroit Grand Prix had been the main Formula One event in the United States. However, for 1989, Bernie Ecclestone demanded that the Detroit race organiser, Chris Pook pay $3 million and build a new and improved pit complex to keep Formula One in Detroit. Pook refused the offer, because Formula One's rival series, the IndyCar Series were asking for a mere $600,000 to host their event, without the demand for a permanent pit complex. Therefore, the Detroit Grand Prix had switched to IndyCars.
Bernie Ecclestone was determined to keep Formula One within the United States. Despite competition from the permanent circuits of Laguna Seca and Road Atlanta, and a proposed street circuit in Miami, the city of Phoenix was able to a secure a contract to host a street race in 1989. Jack Long, whom was the race organizer for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, had convinced Ecclestone that he could set up a race within the desert city of Arizona.
On the 13th January 1989, Phoenix was confirmed to be the new home of the United States Grand Prix to which it would host its first grand prix on the 4th June.
Arguably the least imaginative F1 circuit ever, the track was laid out in downtown Phoenix, where the terrain was as flat as a billiard table, and all of the city blocks were originally laid out as perfect squares. In the original course layout, 10 of the 13 corners were 90° urban street corners, while the 1991 track had nine. Drivers were unhappy with the bumpiness of the streets, and the lack of visual landmarks to gauge their location, having to use sponsor signs and office towers as reference points. The desert heat also required adjustments. The one saving grace of the circuit was the width of the roadway, never getting below 10 meters and often exceeding 15.
The front stretch of the original configuration was a seven-block section of Jefferson Street (all of the local street names coming from early US Presidents), starting at 6th Avenue and heading due east to 1st Street. At which point it encountered the local fire station, where after consultations it was decided to go around it to the south, leaving the north side main entrance clear. So the track made a 90-right, 90-left, 90-left jog around the building, before making a slightly-tighter-than-90-right to get back on Jefferson. This section of Jefferson had been bowed to the south, to accommodate the city's convention center, creating the only variation in the grid pattern of streets for miles. The course then went almost entirely around the perimeter of the center. After gently bending to the left for two blocks, the track made a not-quite-90-left, to follow the building. An almost-four-block straight on 5th Street led to a 90-left, leading to a two-block straight on Monroe, passing a historic, 19th century basilica. Another 90-left led to a two-block straight with the only change in elevation of the course, when the road dipped ~10 meters beneath the main entry to the convention center.
After climbing back to street level, the track made a 90-right onto Washington Street and the six-block-long back straight. At the end was another 90-right (known as "Jack-in-the-Box Corner", for the fast food establishment at the apex) followed after one block by a 90-left. After traversing a two-block straight on Adams Street, the most technical section of the track began. A 90-left 90-right combination put the cars back on Washington for a block. Then the cars hit the 180° left to return to the front straight. Even though the diagrams had the corner as a clean semicircle (or worse, coming to a sharp point in the center!), the corner was actually four bends, due to the use of the concrete barriers. And while one would expect all four bends to be 45°, the first and last ones were actually much sharper than the middle two, to allow for the cars to enter the pits in between the middle two. The net effect was the cars making a 180° arc, with the first and fourth bends as apexes. It sounds complicated, and made for a tight pit entry, but it seemed to work.
The pits were designed to accommodate 40 cars simultaneously, the first track in Formula One to allow for that. The start/finish and timing line was located where Jefferson crossed 4th Street, also where the pits rejoined the track.
The organizers had known in advance that the historic fire station at the end of the front straight would be moved several blocks, to allow for the construction of a new, 19,000 seat arena for the local basketball team. The footprint of the new arena would take up four city blocks, so a redesign of the course was needed.
The circuit made the usual 90-right off of Jefferson at 1st Street. Because of the arena construction, the cars went two blocks before making a 90-left onto Jackson Street. Another two block straight led to another 90-left on 3rd Street, which then only proceeded for a block before a 90-right, taking them east on Madison.
But then the course got interesting. The ensuing straight was about 21⁄2 blocks long. The cars made a sharp, ~135° left through formerly vacant land, and then a not-quite-90° left again, back onto Jefferson. At this part the cars were back on the gently curved section of Jefferson that they had used for the previous circuit, only now they were headed west, not east. This section also ran directly adjacent to the eastbound section on Madison, with barely enough room to walk between the barriers. Just past the convention center, the cars made a sharp right of about 60°, putting them on a roughly two block straight that led to the intersection of Washington and 2nd Street. They hit another 60° corner, this time going left, and this one was might tighter than the latter. As this led onto the slightly shorter back straight, with entry speed critical, this final new corner caught out several drivers over the weekend.
The remainder of the circuit was the same as before, but the drivers felt that the layout had been greatly improved. If not for the bumpy surface, some of them thought they could get to like the Phoenix track. Alas, the handwriting was already on the wall for the event. Advance sales were so poor that the organizers cancelled the construction of the covered stand across from the pits, as a cost-cutting move.
Today, there are no signs remaining of the circuit at all. The only actual construction for the circuit, the pit and race central buildings, were used for several years for auto repair shops and office space, before being demolished to make way for a new federal office building, courthouse and jail. The semicircular Turn 13, which ran through a vacant lot, is now the location of a hip hop recording studio and production company. The diagonal straight used only in 1991 is now a live theater and a Hard Rock Cafe. The interesting hairpin corner before that point was covered by a 50,000 seat baseball stadium. Light rail transit lines have narrowed both Jefferson and Washington streets. Any traces of the track anywhere in downtown have long since been scrubbed away by a new and revitalized downtown Phoenix.
The following is a list of Formula One World Championship events held at the Phoenix Street circuit:
|Year||Event||Winning Driver||Winning Constructor|
|1989||United States Grand Prix||Alain Prost||McLaren-Honda|
|1990||United States Grand Prix||Ayrton Senna||McLaren-Honda|
|1991||United States Grand Prix||Ayrton Senna||McLaren-Honda|
- A portion of what was used as the track can be seen, in the latter part of the Clint Eastwood action flick "The Gauntlet". The demands of filming required some creative bits of geography, as the bus heading towards "the courthouse" is seen heading west on Washington, before the climactic scene at the main entrance to the convention center, above the underpass on 3rd Street used in the track.
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