NA-F2000: Pikes Peak Morioka race report

For more information: Linda Mansfield, lindamansfield@CompuServe.com Morioka Wins His First U.S. FF2000 Race Sunday at Pikes Peak Int'l Raceway FOUNTAIN, Colo., June 29 - Zak Morioka drove the Kentucky Fried Chicken of Brazil/A.M.E.

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

Morioka Wins His First U.S. FF2000 Race Sunday at Pikes Peak Int'l Raceway

FOUNTAIN, Colo., June 29 - Zak Morioka drove the Kentucky Fried Chicken of Brazil/A.M.E. Sports Van Diemen Quicksilver Ford prepared by Hayes Motorsports of Aurora, Colo., to his first career U.S. Formula Ford 2000 victory Sunday morning at Pikes Peak Int'l Raceway. The race was a preliminary to the Samsonite 200 Indy Racing League event.

Morioka, an 18-year-old driver from Sao Paulo, Brazil and Miami, Fla., was the seventh different winner in as many races in U.S. FF2000 this year, and the victory was extremely hard-fought. Tires wear and the correct set-up were vital, but at the end the final ingredient was tenacity, as Morioka held off Buddy Rice by just inches at the line. The official margin of victory was only 0.29 seconds.

The team had to battle back both in the pits and on the race track over the weekend.

Although this was the first U.S. FF2000 race ever at the new 1-mile facility, Morioka's team came well-prepared with a fast set-up right out of the trailer. Morioka was fastest in the optional all-day practice session on Thursday. On Friday morning in the first official practice session he set the fastest lap too, but on the very next lap another driver spun in front of him, clipped his front wheels, and sent Morioka into the turn four wall. No one was hurt, but the crew worked feverishly to repair the car in time for qualifying on Saturday morning. Although they missed the Friday afternoon practice session entirely, Morioka still qualified third for the 34-car, 50-lap/50-mile test on Sunday morning.

Morioka stayed in third for the first two laps but then he passed polesitter Matt Sielsky for second on lap three by diving underneath him in turn three. The yellow flew for a crash in turn two on lap four when Cory Witherill and Henri Najem hit the wall. Morioka heeded the yellow quickly, allowing Sielsky and Seth Taylor by, but the officials realized that Morioka's pass for second had occurred before the yellow waved and they put him back to second for the restart on lap 11.

Sielsky got by Morioka for second on that restart. The top five were running in such a tight draft that Morioka was shuffled back to fifth on the very next lap, where he stayed for six laps.

He repassed Taylor for fourth on lap 18 by charging under him going into turn three, and two laps later he went under Robby McGehee for third in turn two to get back to the spot he'd started in.

Sielsky had passed initial leader Andrea DeLorenzi for the lead by going low in turn one on lap 24, and a lap later Morioka marked the half-way point in the race by passing DeLorenzi too to retake second by sliding under him going into turn three. He passed Sielsky for the lead on lap 28 with the same move, which was the first official complete lap he'd ever led in U.S. FF2000 competition.

Morioka showed the way from laps 28-46, which included four laps under yellow for another crash. That one was for Lance Spragins, who hit the wall and ended up at the start-finish line minus three of his wheels. Several top runners pitted for tires under yellow but Morioka's Yokohamas were wearing well with the set-up he was using, so he stayed out. Morioka held off David Rutledge's challenge on the restart on lap 36, and Rice moved into second on lap 37, with the top six cars running under a blanket.

The third and final yellow waved with 10 laps to go for another crash in turn two that involved three drivers: Augie Pabst III, Larry Foyt and Bill Puterbaugh Jr. Morioka held off Rice on the restart on lap 46 but all seemed lost when Rice got around him for the lead at the start/finish line and going into turn one with just four laps to go. He only led two laps, however, as Morioka never gave up and retook the lead on the next-to-last lap to beat Rice by inches at the checkered, and the crowd rewarded Morioka's determination with a huge round of applause.

Following Morioka and Rice at the line were Jeff Horne in third, Andy Lally in fourth and Urubatan Helou Jr. in fifth. Rutledge, McGehee, Allen May, Luciano Zangirolami and Sielsky rounded out the top 10.

There were four lead changes officially between four drivers. DeLorenzi led the first 23 laps; Sielsky led the next four laps; Morioka led 19 laps from laps 28-46; Rice led two circuit (laps 47 and 48), and Morioka led the last two laps.

The only driver who was transported to the hospital was Witherill, who was complaining of back pain. All the others escaped unhurt.

"I got rolling faster than Zak did on the restarts because of the way my car was set up, but once he got rolling he was hard to beat," said Rice, who still holds the point lead.

"We had good mechanical grip, but the restarts were hard," Morioka admitted. "I thought everyone was warming up their tires too much on the restarts, so I just tried to take it easy and save mine. We were loose at first in the corners at the start but we had set it up to have a little bit of oversteer once the tires got warmed up, because we figured we could live with that and it would help us in the long run. We didn't blister our front tires at all, and we could go flat-out all around the track once we got going.

"It feels good to get our first win; this series is very competitive," he added. "I have to thank my crew. None of us ever gave up. Everything was great and we're very, very happy. Since most of my crew is from Colorado, we had a lot of people rooting for us. Pikes Peak Int'l is now my favorite race track.

"My crew brought a fast car here, and I drove it," he summarized with typical matter-of-factness and a happy grin.

The race will be broadcast on ESPN2 on July 19 at 1:30 p.m. EDT. It will also be broadcast on ESPN International; check local listings for time and date.

The U.S. FF2000 circuit now heads to the heart of stock car country, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, for a doubleheader July 25-26. That event is also part of an IRL program.

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Series Other open wheel
Drivers Robby McGehee , Larry Foyt , David Rutledge , Andy Lally , Buddy Rice , Augie Pabst III