NA-F2000: Morioka Charlotte preview

For more information: Linda Mansfield, lindamansfield@CompuServe.com With Momentum Behind Him, Morioka Is Set to Tackle CMS CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 22 -It's always a special challenge to race at a track that is new to a driver and ...

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

With Momentum Behind Him, Morioka Is Set to Tackle CMS

CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 22 -It's always a special challenge to race at a track that is new to a driver and team, but it's a test that Zak Morioka relishes.

The 18-year-old driver of the Kentucky Fried Chicken/A.M.E. Sports Van Diemen Quicksilver Ford No. 27 is one of the brightest young stars of the U.S. Formula Ford 2000 series, which is making its first appearance ever at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a Friday/Saturday doubleheader supporting the Indy Racing League's VisionAire 500.

CMS is the third of three tracks that the series visited for the first time this year, and Morioka had his best finishes ever in those two previous new races. He finished second at the brand-new Savannah Grand Prize Circuit in Georgia May 18, and on June 29 he posted his first career U.S. FF2000 victory in the series' first visit to the new Pikes Peak Int'l Raceway in Colorado.

"Although we really don't know what to expect, I think we have a little bit of an advantage going into Charlotte," said Morioka with cautious optimism. "We are coming off our first win, so we have momentum behind us. We've also had good luck figuring out tracks that are new to everyone in the series. Nobody really knows what to expect at Charlotte, but we're all looking forward to the challenge of coming up with a good set-up and driving on such a famous track. I think it's neat that we'll be racing our cars on the same track that is so legendary in American stock car racing."

This weekend is critical to the FF2000 championship, since it is a double race weekend. Morioka is second in both the overall 12-race national championship point standings and in the series' oval track championship, which will be determined Saturday at CMS. After this weekend the series travels to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Aug. 9 and then on to the season finale, another double-race weekend Aug. 23-24 at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

The tentative schedule shows Morioka on the track periodically on Thursday from noon to 6 p.m. for practice. Another practice session is scheduled at noon on Friday before time trials at 1:30 p.m. and the first 30-lap/48-mile race at 4 p.m. Time trials for the second race will be held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by a half-hour practice session at 3:30 p.m. and the second race at 6 p.m. The IRL race starts at 8 p.m. Saturday.

ESPN2 has set a tentative time of Sunday, Aug. 3 at 11 a.m. for its broadcast of the first CMS FF2000 race, with a re-airing the following day at 2 a.m. The second race will be shown on the same network on Wednesday, Aug. 6 at 6:30 p.m., with a repeat showing at 2 a.m. the next day. All times are EDT.

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Series Other open wheel