Another Atlantic team eyes Champ Car UPDATE #4 Well, this rumor was almost true but now we can officially make it 'false'.
Chardon-based Polestar Racing came very close to fielding a Champ Car team this season. The team fell short of funding and returned to the Atlantic developmental series, where owners Jim and Pam Griffith and Bruce Potter have had a lot of success over the years.
Jim Griffith said they had enough money to get started, but not to finish the season.
"We had four-fifths of the budget we needed and couldn't find that last part of it," he said. "At the time, the big hope was that Katherine [Legge] was going to drive it. We were really close."
Legge became the first woman to win a U.S. open-wheel race while driving for Polestar's Atlantic team in 2005. She moved up to Champ Car last season.
After putting all of its preseason efforts into Champ Car, Polestar was forced to regroup quickly in March and April to race the Atlantic series without any testing. It re-signed former Polestar driver Ronnie Bremer and signed American rookie Bret MacDonald, whose funding is about to run out. His last race will be in Cleveland. Bremer is seventh in the Atlantic standings and MacDonald is 29th. The leader is Raphael Matos with 140 points. Cleveland.com
11/17/06 “Katherine [Legge] will definitely be in Champ Car next year,” said Kevin Kalkhoven, who signed her to a two-year deal and ran her this season at his PKV stable. “I’m just not exactly certain where.”
07/26/06 Besides Gelles Racing, which has already ordered two new Champ Cars, another Atlantic team looks set to move up in 2007.
"Certainly, almost sooner than later, we'd like to do a Champ Car deal," said Jim Griffith, co-owner of the Polestar Racing Group, which fields a two-car team with Americans Alex Barron and rookie Alan Sciuto.
Barron has returned to the series after racing in both Champ Car and the rival Indy Racing League, to be reunited with Griffith, who was his engineer when Barron won the 1997 Atlantics championship.
"Coming back to Atlantic was a way for me to run in a top-grade car, to do well and work with a lot of people that I've had a lot of success with in the past," said Barron, the only former champion in the series. "To be honest, it's been a little harder than I expected. But, as a team and a driver that's a challenge and that's what you're looking forward to.
"I think there's a lot more talent now than there was when I ran in Atlantics before."
Griffith agreed with his driver, saying, "A lot of people are really running to win the big prize and because of that, the competitive nature of the whole thing has really gone up.
"Where it used to be the top four cars were within a half second, now the top 20 cars are within half a second. So it's really, really hard to move up the grid. The talent is certainly a little more international and I think it's really drawing the cream from everywhere, and I think it's only going to get more so in the future."
But Griffith said this season is only the beginning for Atlantics and Champ Car, which will introduce a new car for 2007 later this week.
Most people believe the proposed unification of the two American open-wheel series must happen for the sport to regain any kind of momentum in its efforts to lure fans to the tracks and raise TV ratings. But Griffith, like Kalkhoven and others, believes that if the merger doesn't happen, Champ Car, which grew from the ashes of the bankrupt CART series, needs to be prepared to carry on alone.
"I think they're just at the point where they're ready to blossom," Griffith said. "There's been a lot of good business decisions made recently, including all the changes in Atlantics. But I think it's a situation where sometimes people expect too much too soon.
"If you think you're going to take this series, which basically you killed - it was sort of a chemotherapy thing there for a while - and make it come right back, well, that would be difficult. It's going to take a little while to come back, but it's happening.
"In a five-year plan you're going to really, really see it," he added. "You go to all these events and you see it. The numbers are starting to come back up." Forbes.com06/21/06 For 15 years, Polestar Racing Group owners Jim and Pam Griffith and Bruce Potter have been based in Chardon, quietly operating one of the Atlantic series' top teams. Next year, the developmental series' parent organization, Champ Car, might be in for a major expansion and overhaul, including the introduction of a new car. Several teams are considering making the jump to the senior circuit.
That could create the best circumstance yet for Polestar to move up from Atlantic to Champ Car, potentially becoming the first major open-wheel team based in Greater Cleveland in decades.
"The amount of opportunities that are available and the timing is the best it's ever been," Jim Griffith said.
The Griffiths and Potter have been part of three Atlantic season championships and have developed several drivers who have advanced to Champ Car or the Indy Racing League, including Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice and current Champ Car driver Katherine Legge. Their latest protégé is 18-year-old Californian Alan Sciuto, who was fourth last week in the Atlantic race in Portland, Ore.
The team has discussed making the leap before.
However, it does not have the financial wherewithal to do it on its own, and will require a major cash commitment from either current sponsors Sealy and The Room Store or new sponsors. Budgets for Champ Car teams range between $4 million and $6 million, while Atlantic team budgets usually are under $1 million.
"We are in deeper negotiations with the [Champ Car] series and our sponsors, and the series wants to know where you're going," Griffith said. "One thing is interesting is they're coming out with a new Champ car in 2007. In some ways, the table has been cleared, and it wouldn't be a bad year to come in. You'd have to have the right people and personnel to do it, and it would be a bit of a more even playing field."
Griffith said a decision probably would be made this summer, and if the team moved up in 2007, it would remain in Greater Cleveland but would move out of its current facility two blocks from the Chardon square. Polestar currently has 12 employees and would need to at least double the size of its team to enter Champ Car. More at Cleveland Plain Dealer
[Editor's Note: Polestar is one of two or three Atlantic teams that AutoRacing1.com is aware of that are eyeing a move up to Champ Car in 2007 or 2008. The team rumored below was not Polestar, but we were asked by the team owner not to reveal their identity just yet.]
02/21/06 AutoRacing1.com spoke to a Champ Car Atlantic team owner under a condition of anonymity today and learned that he had definite plans to buy new Champ Cars in 2007, begin to test and learn them in 2007, and then field a two-car team in 2008. This team owner, a successful businessman, does not shoot from the hip and is very deliberate in his business decisions, so we put a lot of credence in what we were told today. Hence this rumor starts off as strong.
This rumor is in addition to previous rumors of other Atlantic team owners moving into Champ Car as early as 2007. Mark C.