For more information: Linda Mansfield, lindamansfield@CompuServe.com Morioka Wins FF2000 Oval Crown Championship Sat. at CMS CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 26 -There never was a happier driver who dropped out of an auto race before it even ...
For more information: Linda Mansfield, lindamansfield@CompuServe.com
Morioka Wins FF2000 Oval Crown Championship Sat. at CMS
CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 26 -There never was a happier driver who dropped out of an auto race before it even started than Zak Morioka was after Saturday night's U.S. Formula Ford 2000 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. At least he was happy when it was all over.
Despite losing a half-shaft on the pace lap and retiring, the 18-year-old driver of the Kentucky Fried Chicken/A.M.E. Sports Van Diemen Quicksilver Ford still won the series' prestigious Oval Crown Championship.
To say the race was an emotional roller coaster for Morioka and the Hayes Motorsports crew was putting it mildly.
"I really thought we would do well in this race, and I was pumped up for the start," Morioka recalled. "I was just revving the engine up on the backstretch when all of a sudden I heard a whirl, whirl, whirl, and I just couldn't believe it. There was nothing there. The wrecker towed me into the pits, my crew told me it was a broken half-shaft, and the race started without me. There was nothing anyone could do; it's a mechanical part and sometimes things break. But I was very, very disappointed."
Morioka led the point standings for the Oval Crown Championship by six points over Buddy Rice going into the race. The only other driver with a mathematical chance to win the Oval Crown was Robby McGehee. Morioka had qualified third for the race, Rice qualified fourth and McGehee started way back in 20th.
To make matters even sadder for the young Brazilian, Rice led him by only one point in the battle for the overall point championship going into the race, which was now starting without him. His DNS status was scored as 36th place, and since he didn't start he didn't earn even one point.
"I was walking back to our trailer when out of the corner of my eye I saw the big-screen TV in the pits," Morioka recalled. "I couldn't believe my eyes. There was Buddy Rice on the TV, crashed with some other car. At first I didn't even think of the Oval Crown championship. All I knew was that he had trouble too, so we're still in the battle for the overall championship."
Rice had to retire with six laps down for a 33rd finish overall.
Some quick calculations back at the trailer proved that all was indeed not lost for the Oval Crown title, either. If McGehee finished seventh or higher, he would win the Oval Crown. If McGehee finished eighth they would mathematically tie but Morioka would still win the Oval Crown by virtue of more podium finishes. If McGehee finished ninth or worse, Morioka could add the Oval Crown to his resume.
By the time Morioka dared to look at the track action, McGehee was in ninth, but his rear wing was tilted from an earlier altercation. Then a couple cars ahead of him tangled, moving him up to sixth with just five laps to go in the 30-lapper. Again, all seemed lost for Morioka.
But in the waning laps another restart was needed and McGehee didn't have a good one. Unbelievably he ended up 10th at the end, and Morioka was the new Oval Crown champion.
"It was a miracle!," exclaimed a dazed but happy Morioka. "It was a gift from God, I'm sure. I've never experienced such highs and such lows in such a short period of time. It was unbelievable!"
Morioka was presented with a large trophy for the accomplishment. After it is engraved it will be awarded to him again at the series' year-end banquet.
For the record, the race was won by Andrea DeLorenzi over Ryan Hampton, Jeff Shafer, Allen May and Tim Duit. Andy Lally, Augie Pabst III, J. Michael Johnson, Duncan Dayton and McGehee rounded out the top 10.
Unofficially, Morioka now trails Rice by two points in the overall championship going into the next race, which will be held Aug. 9 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The unofficial top 10 are Rice with 136 points followed by Morioka with 134. There is a tie for third between Duncan Dayton and Ryan Hampton with 119. Andy Lally is fifth with 118, and there is a tie for sixth between Matt Sielsky and Luciano Zangirolami with 111. McGehee (101); Jeff Horne (93) and Urubatan Helou Jr. (80) round out the unofficial top 10.
Also unofficially, Morioka won the Oval Crown championship by two points (90-88) over McGehee. Rice, Ryan Hampton, Duncan Dayton, Andy Lally, Luciano Zangirolami, Urubatan Helou Jr., Matt Sielsky and Dave Rutledge rounded out the top 10 in the Oval Crown unofficial standings.
The Oval Crown championship-within-the-championship consisted of five races this year: Walt Disney World (Fla.) Speedway; Phoenix Int'l Raceway; Pikes Peak (Colo.) Int'l Raceway and Friday and Saturday's races at Charlotte. Morioka finished seventh at Disney World and third at Phoenix. He won the Pikes Peak race and he finished third in Friday's race at CMS.
Even more amazing is the fact that most of Morioka's experience prior to becoming a U.S. FF2000 driver three years ago came on road courses, not ovals. "I never thought my first 2000 win would come on an oval, but it did," he said happily. "I never thought we'd win this, but we did. I love ovals!"
Allen May won last year's FF2000 Oval Crown over Jason Bright and Sam Schmidt. Both May and Schmidt already have Indy Racing League experience; Schmidt competed in Saturday night's IRL race at CMS, the event which the 2000 race supported.