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Detroit street circuit

Detroit Street Circuit
Location Detroit, Michigan, USA
Major events Formula One, CART, Trans-Am
Length 4.023 km (2.499 mi)
Turns 18
Lap record 1:40.464 (Ayrton Senna, Lotus 99T-Honda, 1987)

The streets of Detroit, in the U.S. state of Michigan hosted Formula One racing, and later CART racing, between the 1982 and 1991 seasons. The street circuit (course) was set up near the Renaissance Center and the Cobo Arena, also including a small part of the M-1 highway, also known as Woodward Avenue.


  • Formula One 1
  • Trans-Am 2
  • CART 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Formula One

Created largely in an effort to improve the city's international image, the race meant that the United States would host an unprecedented three Grands Prix in the 1982 season. (The other two US races, Long Beach and Las Vegas, were also added to the schedule for similar purposes.) The inaugural Detroit Grand Prix saw John Watson claim victory after starting in 17th place, the lowest grid position for an eventual race winner on a street circuit. (Watson would break his own record at Long Beach the next year by winning from 22nd place.)

The Detroit street circuit's place in Formula One history was assured when Italian Michele Alboreto won the 1983 race driving a Tyrrell 011. It was the last ever of 155 grand prix wins for the 3.0L Cosworth DFV V8 engine which had made its debut back in 1967 when legendary Team Lotus boss Colin Chapman matched his Lotus 49 with the engine. The DFV had won on debut at the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix in the hands of dual World Champion Jim Clark. It was also the last of 23 Formula One race wins for Tyrrell, who had won their first grand prix as a constructor at the 1971 Spanish Grand Prix with that year's World Champion Jackie Stewart driving the Tyrrell 003.

The race soon gained a reputation for being horrendously demanding and gruelling, with the track often breaking up badly under the consistently hot weather; it was perhaps the single hardest race on car and driver in Formula One during the 1980s- this race often produced races of attrition and the narrow track would often result in a large number of cars retiring during the race due to mechanical breakage or contact with the concrete walls. Brakes and gearboxes in particular were tested to their breaking points- the drivers had to brake hard more than 20 times per lap and change gear around 50 to 60 times in one lap (cars had 5-speed manual gearboxes in those days)- for 62 laps usually lasting around 1 minute and 45 seconds. At least half the field retired in each race; it was often considered an achievement if a driver could finish this race, let alone win it.

The 1984 race, won by reigning World Champion Nelson Piquet, tied an F1 road course record by featuring 20 drivers that failed to finish. The race eventually set the record when one finisher, 2nd placed F1-rookie Martin Brundle driving for Tyrrell (the only F1 team by 1984 still competing with the DFV and the only team without a turbocharged engine), was disqualified several months later from the entire 1984 season for technical infringements. Only six cars finished this race.

In 1985, Detroit became the sole American venue on the F1 schedule after the Dallas Grand Prix was dropped following its less than happy debut in 1984 in which the heat, and deteriorating track conditions almost saw it almost cancelled on the morning of the race (the race promoter also 'skipped town' with money owing to both FISA and FOCA). The 1985 Detroit race was the won by Finland's 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg driving a Williams-Honda.

Detroit also became a track which triple World Champion Ayrton Senna had great success at, winning pole position in 1985, 1986 and 1988 and starting 2nd in 1987. He would win three straight Detroit GP's from 1986 to 1987, and 1988 driving for McLaren, the latter being his first World Championship driving for McLaren (Senna drove for Lotus 1985-87). Senna's first Detroit GP in 1984 ended with an accident on lap 21 after qualifying his Toleman-Hart 7th.

The track was only moderately received by the drivers, and was disliked especially by world champions Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet. Despite his open dislike of the track, Prost did finish second in 1984 and 1988 and third in 1986 and 1987 (all for McLaren). Piquet, who generally disliked street circuits, with the exception of the faster and more open Adelaide Street Circuit in Australia (where he won in 1990 after previously finishing 2nd in 1986 and 3rd in 1988), won at Detroit in 1984 driving a Brabham-BMW, and was second to Senna in 1987 driving a Williams-Honda. Embarrassingly, Piquet hit the wall during practice for the 1988 race when he spun his Lotus-Honda into the wall coming out of turn one. At the time the Lotus was carrying an onboard camera for some recorded laps.[1]

Detroit was removed from the Formula One schedule after 1988 after F1's governing body FISA declared the temporary pit area wasn't up to the required standard for a World Championship race. The 1988 race was a very hot race, and the circuit broke up very badly (as it often did during races, but the track disintegration was worse that year) due to the intense heat and humidity. As a result, the drivers after the Grand Prix that year became outspoken with their dislike of the event (though in reality, the track had been one of the least favorite stops on the F1 calendar since its inception in 1982 and both drivers and teams were glad to no longer have to race there). The only Grand Prix in the USA then moved in 1989 to Arizona and the desert city of Phoenix to race on another street circuit. Detroit, instead, gained a CART race, replacing a circuit in the streets of Miami on the schedule.


Starting in 1984, the SCCA Trans-Am Series held a support race during the Grand Prix weekend. The Motor City 100 was often regarded as one of the most important events of the Trans-Am schedule due to the increased television and sponsor exposure, made possible by the international broadcast of the Grand Prix. The Trans-Am race wasn't popular with the Formula One drivers though with the heavy and powerful Trans-Am cars with their huge rear wheels having a tendency to break up the track, already in a suspect state thanks to the heat of the summer when the races were scheduled. This often made the Grand Prix's a more difficult prospect due to drivers having to go offline on to the 'dirty' part of the road to avoid problem area's on the track surface.


Three CART races were held on the track. Emerson Fittipaldi won the first and last races and Michael Andretti won the second race; Andretti also won pole position for each Detroit race. The final race featured an unusual lack of attrition as nearly 3/4 of the drivers finished.

The race was not economically viable for the city, so the venue was changed to a temporary course on Belle Isle for the 1992 season. That event lasted until 2001 as a CART event and was briefly revived for the 2007 and 2008 American Le Mans Series and IndyCar Series seasons, and then again from 2012 onwards.


  1. ^ "Nelson Piquet crash - Detroit 1988". 2009-08-03. Retrieved 2013-12-27. 

External links

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