For more information: Linda Mansfield: lindamansfield@CompuServe.com With Momentum Behind Him, Point Leader Morioka Aims for U.S. FF2000 Title This Weekend at Watkins Glen WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., Aug. 18 - It all comes down to Watkins Glen ...
For more information: Linda Mansfield: lindamansfield@CompuServe.com
With Momentum Behind Him,
Point Leader Morioka Aims for U.S. FF2000 Title This Weekend at Watkins Glen
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., Aug. 18 - It all comes down to Watkins Glen this Saturday and Sunday.
"It" is the 1997 national championship of the U.S. Formula Ford 2000 series, a training ground for aspiring Indy car stars. The championship for the 12-race series will be decided in a doubleheader this weekend at Watkins Glen International, and nine drivers still have a chance to win the title.
Zak Morioka, the 18-year-old sensation from Sao Paulo, Brazil and Miami, Fla., is cautiously optimistic heading into the weekend. The driver of the Kentucky Fried Chicken of Brazil/A.M.E. Sports Van Diemen Quicksilver Ford No. 27 leads the overall point standings going into the weekend by 20 points.
Morioka has already won the series' Oval Crown Championship, a special championship-within-the-championship determined by the points earned in the series' races on oval speedways. He also has two victories in the series, more than any other driver. He's coming off a victory in the last race, so he has momentum behind him. But the point race is so close that he could leave Watkins Glen as either the champion or the ninth-place finisher in the overall standings, or anyplace in between. A total of 62 points will be up for grabs Saturday and Sunday. Each driver's 10 best finishes in the 12 events will be counted to determine the final point standings.
"I want to win both races and I feel confident, but I'm just going to try to do my best and see what happens," said Morioka, one of the youngest and, at 5-feet, 3-inches, one of the smallest drivers in the series.
Even though he is racing against drivers two- and even three-times his age, Morioka is in his third season of U.S. FF2000 competition. "I came to America because the United States has the best drivers and the best tracks. I wanted to be in a very competitive series, because you learn more when you're challenged by the very best," he explains. "Still, it would be nice to have more of an advantage going into Watkins Glen," he adds with a quick smile.
"I have a great deal of confidence in my crew [Hayes Motorsports of Aurora, Colo.] and my car, and we've run well at the Glen in the past," he notes. "We'll just try our best and see what happens," he adds philosophically. "You can't predict what's going to happen in racing and you can't count on anything until the checkered falls, which is what makes it so exciting."
Qualifying for the twin 20-lap races will be even more crucial than usual, since there is only one qualifying session for each race instead of two.
Qualifying for the first race is tentatively set for 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 22. Qualifying for the second race is at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 23 on the tentative schedule released by the series.
The first race is tentatively slated for 1:15 p.m. Saturday, with the second 20-lapper, which will undoubtedly determine the championship, at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. Road races are held regardless of rain.
ESPN2 plans to televise its coverage of the second race on Sunday, Sept. 21 at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, with a re-broadcast at midnight on Sept. 25.
Armchair race fans can watch Morioka win the Mid-Ohio race on ESPN2 at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 1; 3 a.m. Sept. 4; or 2 a.m. Sept. 11.
The coverage can also be seen on ESPN International; check local listings.