Nick Cassidy is the 2019 Super Formula Champion after finishing second behind Tomoki Nojiri in the season-ending race at Suzuka.
Sunlight bathed the Japanese Grand Prix and became the perfect backdrop for Cassidy to win his first Super Formula Championship title on Sunday afternoon, narrowly beating out season-long rival Naoki Yamamoto by just three points. The New Zealander avenged his narrow loss of the 2018 championship to Yamamoto, where he missed out by a single point.
Spanish rookie Álex Palou started the race in pole position, his third of the season, earning a bonus point to keep his own title aspirations alive before the start of Sunday’s 43-lap race. Nojiri started from second, followed by Lucas Auer, and then by both Team Dandelion drivers, Nirei Fukuzumi and Yamamoto in fourth and fifth respectively. Cassidy started right behind Yamamoto in sixth place.
Championship contender Kamui Kobayashi’s team poisoned his race from the start by opting to start on rain tyres instead of the medium or soft compound. Given he’d qualified a poor sixteenth, this was a strategy gamble to circumvent the need to run both dry-weather tyre compounds during the race and hope that he could move into the lead with an early pit stop and seemingly inevitable Safety Car interruption. The plan spectacularly backfired, however, with the race running free of retirements and Safety Cars.
Once the lights were out Palou had a good start, converting pole into the lead and quickly creating a gap to the rest of the field. Yamamoto and Cassidy quickly got to work, with both drivers passing Fukuzumi to move into third and fourth respectively.
By the third lap the three main championship protagonists – Palou, Yamamoto and Cassidy – were all in the top four. The on-track battle between Cassidy and Yamamoto was already heating up, with the New Zealander using his ‘push to pass’ to overtake Yamamoto for third place.
Three seconds down the road from race leader Palou, Cassidy needed to build a buffer to Yamamoto by passing Nojiri as quickly as he could.
Having been passed by Cassidy, Yamamoto peeled into the pits as soon as the compulsory pit window opened to switch to the quicker soft compound tyres. All of those who were on the same Medium/Soft strategy followed suit, pitting as early as possible to switch to the quicker compound.
Nojiri, who started on soft tyres, had by this stage passed the medium-shod Palou for the lead with a bold move at 130R before the Spaniard made his own tyre change.
Cassidy also stayed out on track, conserving his soft tyres in the hope he could repeat his previous triumph at Suzuka where he’d won the opening race of the 2019 season on a similar strategy.
Cassidy needed at least a 40-second gap to those who had already stopped in order to keep track position when he eventually pitted, and by Lap 15 his advantage over Palou (the leader of those who had stopped) was standing at 42 seconds.
Cassidy’s cause was further helped by Yamamoto’s teammate Nirei Fukuzumi, who found his soft tyres were working better than Palou’s at this stage of the race. He boldly overtook the Spaniard around the outside of 130R, which helped to further extend Cassidy’s gap to him in the process.
This was the beginning of the end for Palou, who quickly found himself under assault from Yamimoto and again overtaken at 130R after the defending champion had tried (and failed) to copy his teammate’s move around the outside of the high-speed left-hander.
Palou had destroyed his tyres and by mid-distance his race prospects were spent. He had to pit for a second time and fell down the order over the remaining 20 laps, with his bold hopes of claiming the title as a rookie ending with a whimper. Nonetheless, the youngster should still take pride in a fine maiden full-time season, with his win at Sugo and a pair of fourth places at Okayama and Motegi keeping him in the hunt until the end.
With Cassidy’s advantage over Yamamoto now stretched to over 55 seconds, race leader Nojiri pitted at the end of Lap 34 with Cassidy following suit.
An eleven-second pit was good enough to keep Cassidy ahead of his title rival Yamamoto, with Nirei Fukuzumi and Yuhi Sekiguchi between the pair. Yamamoto proved unable to get by either driver, meaning he would have to rely on a drama for Cassidy to defend his championship title.
Cassidy was not about to let victory be snatched from him again, and he kept his cool to finish in second place behind Nojiri and claim the title by three points.
Race-winner Nojiri ended his own winless spell in Super Formula that had stretched back to 2014, continuing the streak of a different driver winning each race this season.
Fukuzumi could not to enough to help out teammate Yamamoto and so claimed the final spot on the podium ahead of Sekiguchi, who earned a career-best finish. A disappointed Yamamoto crossed the finish line in fifth, magnanimous in defeat and among the first to congratulate a delighted Cassidy.
Whilst Super Formula is all over for 2019, racing in Japan is only heating up more and more as we approach the Super GT finale in a week’s time. Can Nick Cassidy take the double, and add the Super GT title to his CV?
|2019 Super Formula Championship Suzuka II – Final Classification (43 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Tomoki Nojiri||Team Mugen||43||1:14:24.627||13|
|2.||Nick Cassidy||Vantelin Team TOM’S||43||+ 2.532||8|
|3.||Nirei Fukuzumi||DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing||43||+ 3.883||6|
|4.||Yuhi Sekiguchi||Itochu Enex Team Impul||43||+ 6.254||5|
|5.||Naoki Yamamoto||DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing||43||+ 18.744||4|
|6.||Hiroaki Ishiura||JMS P.mu/cerumo・INGING||43||+ 22.129||3|
|7.||Koudai Tsukakoshi||Real Racing||43||+ 31.628||2|
|8.||Ryo Hirakawa||Itochu Enex Team Impul||43||+ 32.101||1|
|9.||Kenta Yamashita||Kondō Racing||43||+ 32.830|
|10.||Sho Tsuboi||JMS P.mu/cerumo・INGING||43||+ 45.204|
|11.||Lucas Auer||B-MAX with Motopark||43||+ 45.357|
|12.||Kamui Kobayashi||Carrozzeria Team KCMG||43||+ 45.584|
|13.||Tadasuke Makino||TCS Nakajima Racing||43||+ 49.398|
|14.||Kazuki Nakajima||Vantelin Team TOM’S||43||+ 50.091|
|15.||Yuji Kunimoto||Kondō Racing||43||+ 54.610|
|16.||Yuichi Nakayama||UOMO Sunoco Team LeMans||43||+ 57.247|
|17.||Kazuya Oshima||UOMO Sunoco Team LeMans||43||+ 1:03.055|
|18.||Jüri Vips||Team Mugen||43||+ 1:09.868|
|19.||Álex Palou||TCS Nakajima Racing||43||+ 1:11.817||1|
|20.||Harrison Newey||B-MAX with Motopark||42||1 lap behind|
Post Race Penalties:
- To be advised
- Championship points are awarded on the results of the race to the top-eight finishers on a 13-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 sliding scale.
- Álex Palou earned 1 bonus championship point for securing pole position.
Images via Super Formula