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

Morioka Honored with FF2000's Top Awards

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Dec. 6 - Saturday night belonged to Zak Morioka, as the young Brazilian took home the top awards at the U.S. Formula Ford 2000 victory party at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel.

Morioka, who just turned 19, was honored as both the national champion and the STP Oval Crown champion in the most competitive season in the series history.

It was especially appropriate that the affair was held within a stone's throw of the world showcase at Epcot Center, since Morioka is representative of the best young drivers from many different nations in this series, one of America's hottest training grounds. He is a Brazilian citizen of Japanese ancestry who lives part of the year in Miami and has raced for the last three years in America, "because America has the best race tracks and drivers, and I wanted to learn from the best." A fourth country that can be added to the story is Canada, since Morioka is a graduate of that nation's Bridgestone Racing School.

Morioka accepted the "Car Owner of the Year Award" for his father, Jonas Morioka. His team manager, Rick Hayes of Hayes Motorsports in Aurora, Colo., received the "Crew Chief of the Year Award" as approximately 135 people looked on.

Morioka also received the Mid-Ohio Racing School's "Driver Achievement Award," which was presented by emcee Calvin Fish.

Morioka thanked his family; his sponsors, Kentucky Fried Chicken of Brazil and A.M.E. Sports; his team of Rick and John Hayes, Brian Sharp and Rory Pedersen; his chassis manufacturer, Van Diemen; his engine preparer, Quicksilver; the staff of series organizers Formula Motorsports; and series sponsors Ford, Yokohama Tires, Sunoco Racing Fuels, VGX Brake Pads and Racing Electronics.

He was especially appreciative of the Hayes brothers, team manager Rick and engineer John.

"They taught me how to get the maximum out of my car," he noted.

Morioka finished 16th in the series in 1995; 11th in 1996 and led his first lap and earned his first podium finish, his first series victory and his first pole this year enroute to the title. He was the series' first repeat winner, with triumphs at Pikes Peak and Mid-Ohio.

Matt Sielsky of Team KOOL Green was honored as the series' runner-up and its "Road Course Champion."

Highcroft Racing's Duncan Dayton, the series' most experienced driver and one of its most popular, was recognized for his third-place finish overall. Robby McGehee was honored for being the runner-up to Morioka in the Oval Crown standings.

Andy Lally was the top rookie in this series for drivers aiming for careers as pro open-wheel stars. He received not only the "Rookie of the Year Award" for the national championship, but also the top rookie prize in the Oval Crown series. Lally also was recognized for completing the most laps, using three different prep shops to complete 373 out of 380 possible laps, or 98.16%. He finished fifth overall, behind Buddy Rice, and had a 10-race string of top-10 finishes.

Andrea De Lorenzi, the hot Tatuus driver, led the most laps in the series, 92, despite not competing in the first five races in the 12-race series. He also won more races than anyone else, as he had three victories to Morioka's two. Dayton, Ryan Hampton, Urubatan Helou Jr., Rino Mastronardi, Buddy Rice, Jeff Shafer and Luciano Zangirolami each won one race.

Veteran David Webb was recognized as the "B"-class champion. He finished 20th overall in a Swift.

John Baytos accepted the "Chassis Manufacturer of the Year Award" for Van Diemen. That marque won seven of the 12 races. Sandy Shamlian and Jim Justice collected the "Engine Builder of the Year Award" for Quicksilver RacEngines, which had eight victories. Ric Rushton accepted a plaque on behalf of DSTP Motorsports as the "Prep Shop of the Year."

SCCA Pro Racing President Dan Greenwood addressed the group, congratulated the champions and thanked the drivers "for putting on great races and making us look good."

Formula Motorsports' Dan Anderson and Mike Foschi also addressed the group, and among other things said that a 14-race schedule for 1998 will be announced within weeks.