27 March 1983
Despite its popularity with fans and teams, the organisers of the Long Beach race were increasingly finding it running at a loss as they were required to pay the costs of freighting all the teams over from Europe, and it looked likely that this would be its last year as negotiations were taking place with the CART series to replace Formula One. Nonetheless, the circuit had been remodelled since last year to try and reduce the impact on city traffic – the Ocean Boulevard section had been removed and the circuit shortened with an extra chicane added on Shoreline Drive where the Start/Finish straight now was.
Alan Jones was back in the paddock with the Arrows team, despite having broken a couple of bones falling off his horse a week or two earlier. He would drive for Arrows in Long Beach and at the non-championship Race of Champions in the hopes of drumming up a sponsor interested in backing him to complete the season. Renault, meanwhile, had rushed their new RE40 chassis into the race following their underwhelming showing in Brazil.
Free Practice revealed some teething troubles with the new circuit layout, in particular a double-bump on the top straight due to the odd camber. The harder-sprung turbo cars noticed it most – both Tolemans broke their suspension on it – while the softer-sprung cars like the Ligiers, Tyrrells and Theodores were fine. The turbo teams complained, while Ken Tyrrell pointed out that this sort of thing was just par for the course on a street circuit and his cars would be disadvantaged elsewhere. On Friday night, before qualifying on Saturday, quick-drying cement was poured between the bumps, making them into one big bump. Better, but not ideal (though Johnny Cecotto thought it was “fun”).
Qualifying made it clear that the Michelin tyres weren’t working well on the circuit and their teams (Brabham, McLaren, Ligier, Alfa and Osella) struggled, and it was an all-Ferrari front row with Tambay taking his first Pole position ahead of Arnoux. Next up, an all-Williams second row (Rosberg, Laffite). De Angelis was fifth in the Lotus-Renault, with Warwick qualifying well again in 6th. Seventh was Michele Alboreto, with Roberto Guerrero an excellent eighth in the Theodore. Of the Michelins, Brabham were 12th (Patrese) and 21st (Piquet), McLaren 23rd (Watson) and 24th (Lauda), Ligier 11th (Jarier) and DNQ (Boesel), Alfa 20th (de Cesaris) and 22nd (Baldi) and neither Osella qualified.
After the session, the stewards announced that Guerrero was disqualified due to his car being 1cm too wide, despite this having been acknowledged as an “unintentional defect” before the session and the car cleared. Nunn and Yip went round the teams to get a petition going to have him reinstated but when Renault, Ferrari and Toleman all refused to sign and the Colombian was out, with everyone behind moving up a space, putting Raul Boesel on the back of the grid in his Ligier.
Due to the circuit configuration, the pitlane would be controlled by a marshal with a red light and instructions to hold drivers exiting the pitlane until a gap in traffic – as a result, nobody wanted to be making mid-race pitstops and even the Brabham team hoped that by reducing the boost (and to an extent writing the weekend off as a bust thanks to their dreadful qualifying) they could make it on one tank.
As the lights went to green on Sunday afternoon, Keke Rosberg got a flyer from third, to such an extent that he almost rear-ended Tambay’s Ferrari and banged wheels with Arnoux before coming through the first corner in second place. By the end of the back straight, he had a go at Tambay for the lead, only to put a wheel on the marbles and do a graceful pirouette, losing second to Laffite (who had got ahead of Arnoux), before regaining it again on the second lap. Riccardo Patrese had also got a rocket start to go seventh.
Meanwhile, Arnoux had lost another place, to Alboreto, who soon caught Laffite and started attacking for third place. Tambay was clear at the front after Rosberg’s spin, but as he eased off to conserve tyres and fuel, the Finn closed back up to within a second and started looking for a way past again. Further back, Jarier set fastest lap on lap 8 in the Ligier, working well, and started to climb through the field. Arnoux, suffering after his contact with Rosberg, was beginning to hold up a queue of traffic headed by Jarier and Cheever, who both got past, overtook Patrese and headed off after Laffite and Alboreto. Once they caught the Tyrrell, Jarier tried to go past Alboreto, but they touched at the end of Seaside way and slid into the runoff area. Both kept their cars going and got moving again: Alboreto limped round for repairs but Jarier soon caught the front runners back up again – Michelin’s tyre problems obviously sorted – and re-passed Patrese for fourth place.
Up front, Rosberg was becoming visibly impatient at his inability to pass the cool-headed Tambay and on lap 25, he went for it at the hairpin from too far back and made contact, flipping the back of the Ferrari up in the air and spinning him round, while the Williams swerved back across the track, narrowly avoiding his team-mate Laffite but clouting Jarier, who toured round furiously to retire with broken front suspension a lap later.
This left Jacques Laffite leading a race for the first time since 1981, with Patrese now second, keeping in touch but unable to make headway with reduced boost. Danny Sullivan was now third, Surer an excellent fourth in the Arrows and then – somehow – the two McLarens of Watson and Lauda. The Woking cars had started 22nd and 23rd after their qualifying disasters, but like Jarier had found the Michelins working much better in the race and carved through the field. By lap 45 they were past Surer, Sullivan and Patrese (who obliginly spun out of the way) and breezed past Laffite whose tyres were fading badly. Patrese also passed the remaining Williams, who soon had Arnoux and Cheever snapping at his heels. Unfortunately, the Williams pit mistakenly informed Laffite that he was a lap ahead of Arnoux and he simply moved over to let the Ferrari and chasing Renault through. Laffite did at least get one position back as Cheever almost immediately pulled over with a broken gearbox.
The two McLarens held station – a different tyre compound choice giving Watson the advantage – to take a remarkable 1-2 from so far back on the grid, a record. Patrese’s engine expired a couple of laps from the end, which promoted Arnoux to third place, Laffite back to fourth, Surer to fifth and Johnny Cecotto took the last point in his second race. Just out of the points in 7th was Raul Boesel – another great run on Michelins from 26th on the grid.