For more information: Linda Mansfield, lindamansfield@CompuServe.com Newsgroups: Morioka Finishes Third Friday And Narrows Rice's Point Lead to One CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 25 - Patience paid off Friday afternoon for Zak Morioka at...
For more information: Linda Mansfield, lindamansfield@CompuServe.com Newsgroups:
Morioka Finishes Third Friday And Narrows Rice's Point Lead to One
CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 25 - Patience paid off Friday afternoon for Zak Morioka at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as he drove conservatively and recorded a strong third-place finish in the U.S. Formula Ford 2000 race in his Kentucky Fried Chicken/A.M.E. Sports Van Diemen Quicksilver Ford. Point leader Buddy Rice crashed on lap nine of the 30-lapper, and unofficially Morioka has closed the gap for the overall championship to only one point going into Saturday's FF2000 race, the second half of a FF2000 doubleheader supporting Saturday's Indy Racing League event.
A bad cold combined with an extremely competitive, non-stop race; high humidity and a broken clutch left Morioka physically drained after the 30-lap/48-mile test on CMS's 1.5-mile oval, with a chicane thrown in for good measure in turn one. Still, he posted his fourth podium finish of the season and third on an oval track.
Ryan Hampton became the eighth different winner in as many races when he won the event over Matt Sielsky. Following Morioka across the line were Robby McGehee and Seth Taylor to round out the top five.
Morioka started third in the 38-driver field. Knowing that the first lap of an FF2000 race is often hairy, he dropped back to fourth on the first lap but he got third back when polesitter Andrea DeLorenzi missed the chicane on lap two, resulting in a stop-and-go penalty and giving the lead to Hampton. On lap four Sielsky used the inside and Rice used the outside to split Hampton in turn one, but Hampton got them both back by using the low groove on the next lap. When they crossed the start/finish line on lap five the top five of Hampton, Rice, Sielsky, Morioka and McGehee were running under a blanket just as close as stock cars do here.
Sielsky passed Hampton for the lead on lap six but Hampton got it back on the next lap, which was indicative of the fight the top pair had for the rest of the race. Sielsky would pull ahead around the start/finish line but Hampton would get him back on the backstretch, and they did this so much is was dizzying. All together there were 16 lead changes officially.
Morioka passed Rice for third coming out of turn three on lap seven. Two laps later Rice crashed in the chicane and dropped out. Both drivers said there was no contact between them.
The great fight for the lead was in a rolling boil at that point. Morioka just hung strong in third, waiting for the lead pair of Hampton and Sielsky to make a mistake. By lap 13 he had moved up right behind them, and with five laps to go he decided it was time to quit waiting and make his move too.
Sielsky had the lead with five to go, and Morioka out-braked Hampton and got under him going into the chicane for second. The top three were three abreast on lap 26, and Hampton retook the lead on lap 26. Morioka hung on to second until the very end, and on the very last lap Sielsky wiggled by for the runner-up spot to push Morioka to third.
"I was cautious at the start," Morioka said after the race, explaining that his Hayes Motorsports crew changed the car's entire set-up from an oval-track set-up to one half-way between their oval track and road course set-up before qualifying. "I just wanted to finish. At the start I let the wheels spin a little too much, but I was concentrating on the end of the race because I wanted to be sure to be there for it.
"I was really lucky there were no restarts, because my clutch was bad early and it finally broke entirely," he also disclosed. "I also had a vibration, but we'll get that fixed for tomorrow. My crew did a great job just to give us this good car, because we had so little practice."
The first time the FF2000 teams got to practice at CMS was Friday morning due to 13 inches of rain which fell in the area on Wednesday and Thursday. "We started with our oval track set-up this morning in practice, and that didn't work very well," Morioka said. "We were very slow at the beginning, but then we changed the whole car to a medium set-up between our oval and road course set-ups. That worked a lot better. We worked a lot on our shocks to put the power down in the chicane. We ended up fourth in the morning practice session, but we'd spent about two hours changing the set-up because it required different suspension parts and everything. That left just about a half-hour for the rest of practice before qualifying, so we didn't have much time to fine-tune our set-up. Overall we're very pleased though to start and finish third.
"The track is a different type of track than I've ever run before," Morioka noted. "It is faster than we've ever run on the straightaways, and then you have to dramatically slow down and go in first gear to get through the chicane in turn one. We have to go from about 145 mph down the straightaways to about 60 mph in the chicane, and that's a very big challenge.
"The track is bumpier than any other track I've ever run on, but that doesn't bother me at all," he added. "The biggest challenge is the change in speed that is required here." "As long as you finish, you have a shot at the title," he said wisely. "Right now is not the time to push it too hard, because it's too easy to make a bad mistake. When you're in contention for a title, you have to race smart. If I have a better starting position tomorrow I'll probably go for it, but we'll just have to see what tomorrow brings!"
Saturday's schedule starts with a half-hour practice session at noon followed by time trials at 1:30. A final half-hour practice session is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., with the race starting at 6 p.m.
ESPN2 has set a tentative time of Sunday, Aug. 3 at 11 a.m. for its broadcast of Friday's FF2000 race, with a re-airing the following day at 2 a.m. Saturday's 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.