Miami Street Circuit
Miami has a long history of street racing, having hosted IMSA sportscars, Trans Am, Indycar and on a variety of courses in the bayfront area before the construction of the speedway and road course at Homestead.
Despite the new facility, the lure of street racing proved strong enough for the Champ Car Series to race on a revised course further down the bayfront in 2002 and 2003, though this was not particularly praised for the quality of racing.
A further, albeit brief, revival came in 2015, when Formula E revived a course nearer to the original location in 2015, but the race proved a one-off.
Ralph Sanchez is the father of racing at Miami; in 1983 he set out to put the city on the motorsport map, gambling that the area's large hispanic community, with its traditional following of road racing, would translate into a big crowd. He convinced IMSA to bring its fast sports prototypes, which was something of a coup as it had never previously held a street race. Miami would go on to form a template which was followed by the series at many different cities across the next decade.
The first course was centred on Biscayne Boulevard, with portions of Bayfront Park, the harbour side and a specially-created section – on what would later become Bicentennial Park – being used. The course was tight and there were concerns that the big sportscars might struggle to get round or could cause the road surface to break up, however these were swiftly allayed after first practice. Promotion was good and a sizeable crowd turned up – only for the one thing not in Sanchez's control to put a dampener on proceedings; the weather.
Conditions were appalling as severe rainstorm swept through; Gianpiero Moretti memorably commented that he had enjoyed better visibility scuba-diving back home in Italy... With sections of the course in flood, the race was red flagged after just 27 laps and Al Holbert declared the winner, leaving the remaining spectators to trudge home wet and disappointed.
Miami Motorsports lost well over $1 million dollars in the damp squib of 1983 but gained much respect from the competitors and officials for paying out the full prize purse, including a then-record of $50,000 for first place. It helped ensure that if Sanchez wanted to continue, IMSA would be back.
Realising that he needed an additional draw to make up for the difficult first year, Sanchez decided to form his own 'Spirit of Miami' team in which a big-name driver would be employed to bring in the crowds. After months of persistent badgering, 1972 and '74 F1 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi was tempted out of retirement to get behind the wheel of the team's March GTP. It was a huge coup and helped ensure major headlines and a sizeable crowd. The disasters of the previous year were quickly forgotten as warm sunshine bathed the course on race day. Better still, Fittipaldi qualified on pole and led the race, only for the Chevrolet engine to fail, leaving the way clear for the Jaguar of Doc Bundy and Brian Redman to take the win.
The following year Fittipaldi was back and once again made his way to the front of the field only for a misunderstanding by officials under a full course caution resulting in Fittipaldi being waved incorrectly past the pace car. Fittipaldi pressed on and actually took the chequered flag only to be penalised a lap, giving the win to Al Holbert and Derek Bell's Porsche.
Bicentennial Park course debuts
The event had already become the jewel in the crown for IMSA racing but was about to hit new heights when it was forced to move to a new home. Development at Bayfront Park meant that for 1986, a new course was constructed at a cost of $1 million in Bicentennial Park, five blocks north of the previous route. The majority of the track was inside the park on purpose-built roads, with the two halves connected by a blast down Biscayne Boulevard. The new location also allowed for a more dedicated pit and paddock area, giving the course the feel of a true road circuit. It also had the benefit of making the setup in subsequent years much easier.
IMSA settled into its new Miami home until 1994, when Trans-Am took over for a single year. Sanchez by now had his sights set on his new Homestead-Miami Speedway but decided on a final hurrah in 1995, in order to promote the following year's race. For the faster Indycar machinery, the course was reversed, now running in a clockwise direction and chicane was added at the end of the Biscayne Boulevard section. There followed a relocated straight section due to an expansion of the public road network alongside it, while the former Turn 4 (now Turn 10) was also altered, becoming slightly quicker (but with more run-off) as a result. The race, run as the season opener, was won by Jacques Villeneuve in what would be an eventual run to the title for the Canadian.
With racing then switching to Homestead, it seemed that the Bayfront area would reverberate to the sound of racing engines no more. Within three years, the layout of the Bicentennial Park racing circuit was partially razed for construction of American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat basketball team. In 2012, the remaining vestiges of the circuit were completely demolished due to the construction of the new Science Museum and Art Museum on the site.
New courses for Champ Car, ALMS and Formula E
However, in 2002, new promoters organised a joint ChampCar/ALMS event on a new course at Bayfront Park, using part of the original 1983 course along Biscayne Boulevard. The course proved slow and low grip – the section running through a car park at 3rd/4th Street proving particularly problematic and requiring overnight resurfacing with concrete after the first day of running. Cristiano da Matta took the win in the ChampCar race while the Audi of Frank Biela and Dindo Capello won the earlier ALMS race.
For 2003, the car park section was eliminated in favour of extended section along Biscayne Boulevard at the northern end of the track. Mario Domínguez took the win for Herdez Racing, while JJ Lehto and Johnny Herbert won the ALMS encounter in a Champion Audi. The revived races never quite captured the imagination of the previous events and both ChampCar and the ALMS elected to move on elsewhere for 2004.
Once again, that seemed to be that for racing on Miami's streets. However, the new Formula E championship gave a new opportunity for the city and a deal was agreed for Miami to be the fifth stop on the inaugural season. Andretti Sports Marketing was appointed to organise the event, which was centred around the American Airlines Arena.
Ayesa, the company who created the Valencia urban race track, was hired to create the 1.348 mile course which, although sharing its location with part of the original Bicentennial Park IMSA and Indycar course, did not actually use any of the original roads, as all have been substantially redeveloped in subsequent years. The new circuit was typical of those used by Formula E in being fairly stop-start in nature, with the so far only race victory being taken by the eDAMS Renault of Nicolas Prost.
This is a historic circuit which is no longer in operation.
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The Miami street circuit was located in the Bayside area of Miami, USA. Miami's International Airport is just 6 miles to the west of the circuit.
The most recent Formula E track was centred around the American Airlines Arena on Biscayne Boulevard, through with the temporary nature of the track amenities, there is little evidence of the circuit to see.
Getting to the Bayside area is easy thanks to the city's good public transport system. The Metrorail will take you to Government Center, around two blocks from the track and near City Hall. From their, take the free MetroMover Omni Loop line to Park West Station, which will deposit you close to the Arena and the circuit's former location on NE 2nd Avenue. Equally, the Miami Metrobus network has numerous lines that pass close to the track.