Toyota ends title sponsorship of Long Beach Grand Prix after 39 years

After 39 years as the title sponsor of Long Beach’s biggest event, Toyota Motor North America announced it will not renew its agreement for the annual Grand Prix of Long Beach, race officials said Thursday.

Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, said race officials have begun the process of finding a new partner, describing the race’s affiliation with Toyota as “phenomenal.”

Toyota began sponsoring the event in 1980, and had served as an official pace car provider since even earlier: 1975.

“Toyota has been a great partner. Obviously, you don’t have a 44-year partnership with a company and not have great thoughts and feelings for that company,” said Michaelian Thursday morning. “But like any business, they review where they’re at and now they’re looking to move in an alternate direction.”

In addition to being the Grand Prix’s title sponsor, Toyota was also the race’s official automotive sponsor. Toyota will also end that sponsorship for the 2019 event.

“So, we’re looking for either someone to be sponsor of both, or two separate sponsors,” said Michaelian.  “There are variations. We’re talking to both automotive companies as well as non-automotive companies.”

Officials with Toyota and the Grand Prix declined to say how much Toyota was paying for its involvement in the race.

Toyota announced in 2014 that it was relocating its headquarters from Torrance to Texas, though Laura Pierce, general manager of Toyota Motorsports, said in an interview Thursday that the move had nothing to do with its decision.

She said the decision was difficult—”It was a great relationship”—but the company is focused on a broader strategy to target customers in different geographies, with a mission to create modes of mobility that are not necessarily cars.

The company will continue to sponsor various NASCAR, Formula Drift and other auto racing events, but will end its involvement with IndyCar completely, Pierce said. Toyota is also sponsoring Olympic and Paralympic competitions.

Initial speculation that the company may pull out of the local event came in 2016, when Toyota for the last time sponsored the pro/celebrity race, leading to its cancellation. The celebrity event, drawing the likes of Keanu Reeves, Jason Bateman and Gene Hackman, was a big draw for the estimated 170,000 spectators who annually come to the three-day event in April.

The 2019 Grand Prix of Long Beach, as it’s unofficially called until a new sponsor is found, will be held April 12-14.

Columnist Tim Grobaty contributed to this report.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.
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