NA-F2000: Phoenix - Morioka PR 97-03-23

For more information: Linda Mansfield 75534.2635@CompuServe.com Morioka Scores First Podium Finish in U.S. FF2000 PHOENIX, March 23 - Zak Morioka of Sao Paulo, Brazil and Miami, Fla., recorded his best finish ever in U.S. Formula Ford 2000...

For more information: Linda Mansfield 75534.2635@CompuServe.com

Morioka Scores First Podium Finish in U.S. FF2000

PHOENIX, March 23 - Zak Morioka of Sao Paulo, Brazil and Miami, Fla., recorded his best finish ever in U.S. Formula Ford 2000 competition Sunday when he finished third in the 50-lap race at Phoenix Int'l Raceway, a companion event to the Phoenix 200 Indy Racing League event. His previous best finishes were two fourths.

Morioka started second, which was also his best qualifying effort ever in this series for drivers striving to advance into Indy cars. His Kentucky Fried Chicken of Brazil/A.M.E. Sports Van Diemen Quicksilver Ford No. 27 was prepared to perfection by Hayes Motorsport of Aurora, Colo., and the podium finish was a hard-fought one in the field of 36.

Buddy Rice won the race, and Duncan Dayton finished second. Trailing Morioka in the provisional results were Bobby McGehee and Rick Rushton.

"I like Phoenix Int'l Raceway very much, but I never dreamed that my first podium finish would come on an oval," said a happy 18-year-old Morioka after the race. "My car was set up to be the best on long runs, and when the yellows kept coming out that hurt me. But I'm still very, very happy. I used to get on the podium all the time in go-kart races but this is my third year of trying to accomplish this in FF2000, so I'm very happy. I have a great team in Rick and John Hayes of Hayes Motorsports, and that is making the difference. I want to also thank my dad and Kentucky Fried Chicken, because they always believe in me."

When the green flag came out Morioka was second, but polesitter Matt Sielsky and Rice were ahead of him at the end of lap one. Morioka passed Sielsky for second on lap two, but had to go back to third for the restart after a lap two yellow. (USAC reverts back to the last completed lap rather than racing back to the start/finish line ala NASCAR.)

The green flew again on lap seven with Morioka in third, but he got second when Sielsky pitted. Dayton, who had started seventh, was on the move at that point, and he caught Morioka on lap nine and the pair had a hard-fought battle for second until Dayton got the spot on lap 13 and the yellow flew again for a wreck on the frontstretch.

When the green waved again on lap 19, Rice was in the lead but Morioka and Dayton were side-by-side and Andy Lally and Don Burgoon were side-by-side right behind them.

Morioka slipped ahead for second on lap 20, but Dayton was right on his rear wing. The pair ran that way for the next two laps before the yellow flew again when Don Burgoon crashed on the frontstretch, so Morioka was second to Rice at the half-way point in the 50-lapper. The green came out again on lap 30, and Morioka did a masterful job holding off Dayton for four laps before Dayton got the spot with an inside move in turn one. There was another yellow on lap 36 which lasted for eight laps, setting up a charge to the checkered. Morioka knew Dayton wouldn't be expecting him to pass on the outside on the restart, so that's just what he did in turn one on lap 44 when the green flew again.

Dayton got him back again the following lap with a slingshot low in turn one, and that's the way they took the checkered five laps later. The margin of victory was only 0.100 seconds.

"I like racing with Duncan," Morioka said after the race. "I like him because he knows the limit. He gets close and races hard, but he races cleanly. He's a nice guy."

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Series Other open wheel
Drivers Duncan Dayton , Andy Lally , Buddy Rice