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Cassidy explains “scary” race-winning Sugo passes

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Reigning champion Cassidy won after overtaking both Naoki Yamamoto and long-time leader Ryo Hirakawa in quick succession, on both occasions getting a superior run through the long, fast final corner before passing along the start/finish straight.

Hirakawa had been leading by as much as four seconds when a safety car was called on lap 20 following a crash for Sergio Sette Camara, which meant Hirakawa, Yamamoto and Cassidy would all pit together and run nose-to-tail for the restart.

At the end of the first lap of green flag running, TOM’S man Cassidy was able to get the better of 2019 title rival Yamamoto, and two laps later he executed a similar move on Hirakawa before going to claim his third career victory in Super Formula.

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Describing his passes on Yamamoto and Hirakawa in more detail, Cassidy recalled: “I could see Naoki was making some mistakes at the last corner. The Honda engine is really good up the hill, on a normal run I couldn’t get close to him.

“But he made a mistake, and on that lap I was full throttle in the last corner, which in Super Formula in that moment with half a tank [of fuel] is scary, but I made it work. It was a combination of staying flat, OTS [overtake system], and slipstream.

“It was the same situation with Ryo. I waited one lap, made him use the OTS, and then the next lap I did everything I could. He had some touching [bottoming out], and he went a bit wide, I could stay flat and use OTS, which helped me get the run.”

Nick Cassidy, TOM’S

Nick Cassidy, TOM’S

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Cassidy qualified fourth, his best grid slot of the year, and ran in that position for most of the first stint as poleman Sette Camara settled into second place behind Hirakawa.

The New Zealander said he was biding his time in the early part of the race but felt he had the pace to get ahead of his adversaries during the pitstop phase.

“I felt strong on cold tyres, so I was quite confident that if I stopped around [the same time as] these guys, I could be stronger on the out lap,” said Cassidy.

“In the first stint, I was waiting for a chance to attack. [The pace] wasn’t bad, we were doing 1m08.1s, 8.2s, Hirakawa was doing 7.8s, then I pushed one lap I did 7.6s, and I knew the speed was there. At that stage you have no idea what everyone’s strategy is, so if you can’t pass there’s no point to push. I just needed to stay there and be patient.

“It was difficult, tyre warm-up was slow this weekend, but on the second set [of tyres] for whatever reason I felt stronger, so I could attack. I took some risk in SP In and SP Out, to get close to these guys, and attack in the last corner and luckily it paid off.”

Nick Cassidy, TOM’S

Nick Cassidy, TOM’S

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Cassidy now sits second in the championship standings, 15 points adrift of Hirakawa, who extended his advantage with his nearest pre-race rival Sho Tsuboi failing to score.

Impul driver Hirakawa admitted that there was little he could do to counter the speed of his regular SUPER GT teammate as he struggled with his tyre warm-up.

“Usually in SUPER GT, Nick’s speed on cold tyres helps me, but this time it harmed me,” said Hirakawa. “I was a bit disappointed about that, but I had the feeling he was simply faster in terms of pace. That said, in the Motegi and Okayama races, I had a tough time [with race pace], but this time I was quicker.

“Both the team and I showed progress in that area, so I want to take that away as a positive. I’m not really thinking about the points situation, and Autopolis is my favourite circuit, so I’m really looking forward to it. To be able to win again, I want to put everything together.”

Additional reporting by Tomohiro Yoshita

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