NA-F2000: Mid Ohio Morioka race report

For more information: Linda Mansfield, lindamansfield@CompuServe.com Morioka Is First Two-Time Winner, Takes U.S. FF2000 Point Lead Saturday at Mid-Ohio LEXINGTON, Ohio, Aug. 9 - Zak Morioka became the first two-time winner in U.S. Formula...

For more information: Linda Mansfield, lindamansfield@CompuServe.com

Morioka Is First Two-Time Winner, Takes U.S. FF2000 Point Lead Saturday at Mid-Ohio

LEXINGTON, Ohio, Aug. 9 - Zak Morioka became the first two-time winner in U.S. Formula Ford 2000 competition this year and took the series point lead when he won the 20-lap FF2000 race Saturday afternoon at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The event was a real nail-biter, as polesitter Matt Sielsky led the entire way except for the last lap, when Morioka made the winning pass coming out of turn one with his Kentucky Fried Chicken of Brazil/A.M.E. Sports Van Diemen Quicksilver Ford No. 27.

Unofficially, Morioka now has a 20 point lead (164-144) over Buddy Rice going into the season finale, a doubleheader weekend at Watkins Glen, N.Y., Aug. 23-24. The other drivers in the unofficial top 10 are Sielsky (138 points); Duncan Dayton (137 points); Andy Lally (134); Ryan Hampton (131); Luciano Zangirolami (112); Robby McGehee (102); J. Michael Johnson (102) and Jeff Shafer (95.) A total of 62 points are up for grabs at Watkins Glen, so the battle for the championship in this ultra-competitive series is still extremely fierce. Rice was involved in a crash during qualifying and had to start 23rd, but he battled back to 13th Saturday.

Morioka's goal heading into the Mid-Ohio race, which was sponsored by VGX Brake Pads and the New Line Cinema release "Money Talks," was first to finish and then to try to finish high in the rundown. He was very careful throughout the race but he said he did go for the win, which was obvious to all. "Sometimes in life you have to take calculated risks, and sometimes they work out," he said happily.

Morioka started second and dropped to third behind Sielsky and Andy Lally at the start. He passed Lally in the esses to retake second on lap two, and Sielsky had more than a 2-second lead by lap six.

Morioka had closed that to a little over 1 second by lap eight of the 20-lapper around the 2.258-mile road course, however, and was patiently sizing up Sielsky to see where he might be able to attempt a pass.

Just after the half-way point a full-course yellow waved to retrieve some spun cars in a gravel pit, and when the green came out again on lap 15 Sielsky was still in the lead followed by Morioka, Lally, Andrea De Lorenzi and Shafer. Morioka made a stab at Sielsky that was unsuccessful, and De Lorenzi got by Lally for third in the keyhole at that point.

Another full-course yellow waved on lap 16, which lasted three laps and set up a one-lap dash to the checkered. Sielsky protected his lead valiantly but Morioka got a little bit of a draft going into the keyhole and charged ahead coming out of turn one, and then held off Sielsky by 0.332 seconds at the line. Morioka also set the fastest lap of the race in the 45.16-mile contest around the 13-turn course with a lap at 1:24.623 seconds.

Following Morioka and Sielsky in the unofficial top 10 were De Lorenzi, Shafer, Dayton, Lally, Ollie Besinger, Johnson, Hampton and Seth Taylor.

Morioka's previous victory in this series came on the oval at Pikes Peak Int'l Raceway, and he won the series' Oval Crown Championship at the last race, held at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

"This race took a lot of patience," said Morioka, a resident of Sao Paulo, Brazil and Miami, Fla., whose maturity belies his age of 18. "It was a waiting game, and I wanted not to do any mistakes. I tried to pass Matt on the first restart, but I couldn't quite get by him. It is a great honor to be the first two-time winner in this series because it is very competitive. Matt is a very good driver, and without the yellow I don't think I could have passed him."

Sielsky said his car was perfect. Morioka said his car had been understeering a little in qualifying and his Hayes Motorsports crew made some changes before the race. "We were bottoming out a little in turn nine and some other places under braking, but it didn't really hurt us," he said, praising his Aurora, Colo.-based Hayes Motorsports team of Rick and John Hayes and Brian Sharp for their work.

The race will be broadcast on a tape-delayed basis on ESPN2, tentatively scheduled for Monday, Aug. 18 at 6:30 p.m. (EDT).

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Series Other open wheel
Drivers Duncan Dayton , Robby McGehee , Andy Lally , Buddy Rice , Ryan Hampton , Michael Johnson , Jeff Shafer