NA-F2000: St. Petersburg Morioka press release

For more information: Linda Mansfield, Morioka Finishes Eighth at St. Petersburg ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Feb. 23 - Zak Morioka's Kentucky Fried Chicken/A.M.E. Sports Van Diemen survived a hard hit in the...

For more information: Linda Mansfield,

Morioka Finishes Eighth at St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Feb. 23 - Zak Morioka's Kentucky Fried Chicken/A.M.E. Sports Van Diemen survived a hard hit in the rear end on lap seven while running seventh, did a 180-degree spin and dropped to tenth, and battled back to finish a solid eighth in the U.S. Formula Ford 2000 race Sunday as part of the Kash n' Karry Florida Grand Prix at the St. Petersburg street course here.

Morioka, the 18-year-old driver from Sao Paulo, Brazil and Miami, Fla., was actually hit twice in the race.

"The first time occurred in turn four, off the main straight, when Cory Witherill hit me quite hard in the rear," Morioka related. "I spun and I was just inches from the wall. I stopped and waited for a clean spot to rejoin the field, but I lost several positions."

Two or three laps later, Tim Duit hit him too. "That was not his fault; I missed a downshift and he just hit me a little; it wasn't really bad. He passed me on the straightaway, but I passed him back a little later in turn five or six."

In a race that saw nine of the 42 starters retire after two separate crashes in the first two laps, Morioka was pleased to finish the event, let alone come away with his second top-10 finish in as many races. (He finished seventh at the season opener last month.)

"We were able to finish this race because Rick Hayes (the team manager) built a strong car that could survive all the touches," he said firmly. "I've been hit like that before and crashed because the car just didn't hold up. It really amazed me that the car survived the crash with Cory. I got hit very hard, but it was Cory's car that broke, not mine. That crash could have made us drop out, but it didn't because of the preparation done to the car."

Although Hayes worked with Morioka last year too, this is the Aurora, Colo.-resident's first year as team manager. "It's unbelievable that this team has two top-10 finishes despite working together as a team for only two races," Morioka added. "It we have a good set-up, we can finish in the top 10."

Morioka got off to a good start. He gridded 12th, but he crossed the start/finish line in eighth place after lap one, something he credited to Hayes and to fifth-place starter David Webb.

"Rick was by the start/finish line, and he told me over the radio when the green flag came out. I really trusted him and I went for it, even though I couldn't see the green flag from where I was on the track.

"Then I think David Webb did a great job at the start, because somebody touched him and somehow he didn't spin out. Guys were really tight in the wall and others were wide, and if David would have spun out I would have been in a crash, because I was right in the middle that time."

Morioka also revealed that he had a slight oversteer at first. He adjusted the sway bar in the cockpit under the red flag for the early accidents, which helped a little. "I went as far as I could, but I couldn't adjust it any further because I was at the edge, and you couldn't move it any further," he explained.

Morioka ran the early laps in eighth, but he moved up to seventh when second-place starter Jeff Shafer got stuck in gear and had to pit. He fell back to tenth after the altercation with Witherill, but moved into ninth on lap 16 when Jean-Francois Veilleux hit the wall in turn four right in front of him. Don Burgoon faded from sixth to ninth at the end, moving Morioka up to eighth at the finish.

Rino Mastronardi won the event over polesitter Matt Sielsky, Buddy Rice, Webb, Andy Lally, Augie Pabst III and Juiliano Moro. Rounding out the top 10 were Morioka, Burgoon and Duit.

Morioka's next race is March 23 on Phoenix Int'l Raceway's 1-mile oval, which will be a companion race to an Indy Racing League event. "I think we're going to test there, and I like both the oval and the road course at Phoenix," Morioka said. "If everything goes right, I think we can go for the win. I know the tracks, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

Sunday's race will be broadcast on Speedvision at 10 p.m. EST on Friday, Feb. 28.

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About this article
Series Other open wheel
Drivers Andy Lally , Buddy Rice , Augie Pabst III , Jeff Shafer , Rino Mastronardi