While Polestar Racing Group joined the grid this year as newcomer to the F2000 Championship Series, the Ohio-based team has been fixture on the open-wheel racing scene in North America, with three Atlantic Championships and an exclusive resume.
The team, run by Pam and Jim Griffith, has a three-car F2000 effort for Mark Defer, Dan Denison and Bill Jordan, while also competing in various SCCA Regional and National events, including the upcoming National Championship in both the Formula Atlantic and Formula F classes.
While the 2011 line up of F2000 drivers features Masters Class aces, Polestar is on the hunt for aspiring talent for 2012, for both the F2000 and F1600 Series.
“Racing was all I ever thought of as a kid, and no one in my family was involved,” explained Jim Griffith. That eventually led him to being involved with local karting and midgets.
“Someone I knew from karting went to Can-Am and asked me to come and help,” he continued.
From there, the rest is in the racing history books.
“I sort of evolved into building my own cars,” Griffith said. That includes Super Vees, and even a carbon-tub Atlantic car, the Raven, in the early 1990s. “I’ve done everything from Can-Am, to IndyCars, to IMSA.”
Griffith was the engineer for Patrick Carpentier, who dominated the Atlantic Championship in 1996.
In the late 1990s, Griffith teamed up with Lynx Racing, an Atlantic team, providing all the engineering support, and also did the same for DSTP Racing, which had both Atlantic and F2000 teams and its own ladder system.
“We brought Memo Gidley, Alex Barron and Buddy Rice through F2000 with DSTP and then graduated them through the Lynx program.”
Those were the days of unrestricted testing, with Griffith estimating that one year they spent 235 days on the road with Atlantic and F2000 cars.
“No group had limits on testing. We won the championship with Buddy Rice in 2000, and he ultimately won the Indy 500.”
Hired Gun to Full Team
In 2002 Polestar paired up for a season with Sigma Autosport, in Atlantics, before venturing out on their own in 2003.
“That was the first year of totally being on our own, the rest of the time we had just been a hired gun,” commented Griffith.
2004 and 2005 brought more success, with Ronnie Bremer getting in the car late in the 2004 Atlantic season.
“We went to Cleveland in 2004 with no testing, we put a seat in the car the day before, and Ronnie qualified on the front row,” noted Griffith. A win would come later in the year at Denver.
In 2005, Polestar fielded Katherine Legge, winning three races (Long Beach, Edmonton and San Jose) and sending Legge to the PKV Champ Car team in 2006. Legge would spend another year in Champ Cars in 2007 and also race as a factory Audi driver in DTM.
New Swift 016/Mazda Atlantic cars were acquired for the 2006 season as the Series saw a resurgence with a new car. Polestar also embarked on club racing programs.
Those club programs, along with the team’s engineering business and machine shop, would prove beneficial following the demise of the Atlantic Series.
“When the Atlantic Series went away, we had already sold the cars, but made deals with drivers to run them and then we had no deals, so we had to try to survive and luckily, the engineering and fabricating work that we do carried us through it,” continued Griffith., who also said they had built a couple of Lotus 7 replicas recently.
“When you’re involved with an Atlantic program for years, and then it’s gone, it’s sometimes hard to recover. It’s not an instant recovery when investments are made into parts and equipment.”
Now there is a “benefit” to being a prep-shop for not owning cars, according to Griffith. “The driver owns their own equipment, we just provide a service. Not a service and rolling stock.”
As far as the hot topic of the new F2000 RFR and Radon cars are concerned, Griffith added: “I look at it two ways. As long as it doesn’t make the Series cost prohibitive, because you have to keep buying new cars, right now there are guys running chassis that have been converted from Pinto cars and they are competitive. There is nothing that stops them from spending on shocks, wings or suspension, but they don’t have to buy a new car, and a development program with it.
“But, as a fan of engineering and building parts, I think the new cars are neat.”
For 2012, Griffith hopes to expand the F2000 program.
“We put Tonis Kasemets in the car at Watkins Glen to make the other guys faster,” continued Griffith.
Kasemets, driving to collect data for the rest of the team, went straight to the top of the time sheets, setting the fastest lap the Series has ever seen at Watkins Glen.