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Wednesday, Sep 27 03:00pm
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman in Japan

Nick Cassidy making it big in Japan’s SUPER FORMULA: Through My Lens

If you want to get to Formula 1 you’ve got to go to Europe. That’s what anyone who’s anyone says about rising through the ranks of single seater racing.

 

But in a time where there are hundreds if not thousands of young drivers vying for those precious 22 seats, the realities of making it to Formula 1 are slim without a healthy wallet. Those good enough, however, will make their name known elsewhere.

 

Asia has always been an attractive option for many up-and-coming racing drivers, especially those from New Zealand and Australia. The likes of James Courtney found their feet in Japan, even the late Mark Porter drove in JGTC.

 

Kiwis are flocking to Japan, China and other regions of Asia now more so than ever before; 23-year-old Nick Cassidy is a prime example.

 

Nick’s success early in his career opened the door wide open for a professional racing career in Japan in the top two tiers, the Autobacs SUPER GT Series and SUPER FORMULA.

 

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Nick in 2015 in the cockpit of the Toyota FT50

 

As a photojournalist, you inevitably end up following guys like Nick through the ranks.

 

Nick's rise to the top has been meteoric. Three New Zealand Grand Prix titles, two Castrol Toyota Racing Series championships too, a slew of podiums in European single seater categories including Formula 3 and a V8 SuperTourer win on debut.

 

His ability to jump in just about anything and be quick has always put him in good stead.

 

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Nick tests Toyota's Tatuus FT50 at Hampton Downs ahead of the 2015 Castrol Toyota Racing Series

 

I had photographed Nick before, but not met him until earlier this year. Having done a couple of trips to Bathurst to cover Kiwis competing in Supercars, I pitched the idea of coming to Japan to document his racing.

 

At the beginning of the year it was more pipedream than goal, but seven months later I was on flight NZ92 exit row seat 50c bound for Tōkyō.

 

Me, Nick and his dad drive up to Twin Ring Motegi for what will be round four of SUPER FORMULA. The circuit's location is a bit like Manfeild in some ways. You drive two or three hours from the main centres through the country’s hillside, then all of a sudden, the circuit is right in front of you.

 

By no means is the circuit anything like Manfeild, however. Twin Ring Motegi is a motorsport amphitheatre cut out of the densely forested mountainside.

 

Those who have played Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport will know the track. Its name Twin Ring comes from the fact the facility encapsulates an oval and a road course. It was built in 1997, funnily enough, the same year I was born.

 

Nick is racing for KONDŌ Racing, founded by Masahiko Kondō—Japan’s Justin Bieber of the '80s.

 

Cassidy Zoom

 

This is Nick's first year of SUPER FORMULA and already he’s bringing the team some of their best results with teammate Kenta Yamashita. At the second round of the series Nick got his first podium and KONDŌ’s first podium since early 2014.

 

So far, it's been a good start. 

 

Friday is a relaxed affair at the circuit. The teams and drivers get an hour to themselves on track for practice. That’s my first chance too to photograph Nick and the four-cyliner Dallara SF14 he drives.

 

Pan 

It’s like nothing I’ve shot before. These cars are quick, akin to that of a Formula 1 car. Around Suzuka Circuit these are only eight seconds down, but it's quicker through the corners.

 

READ MORE: Japan's fastest series everyone should watch

 

Nothing can really prepare you for that. Shooting a car cutting through apexes that quickly really makes you appreciate today’s Formula 1 and WEC photographers.

 

Sign 

There’s a certain excitement you get in a completely foreign territory, and the challenge of shooting something entirely new is a welcomed challenge.

 

SUPER FORMULA is essentially the closest racing series to Formula 1 anywhere. It’s long been a proving ground for young drivers wanting to make it into the World Championship. Eddie Irvine, Ralf Schumacher, Pedro de la Rosa and more recently Stoffel Vandoorne, all came from Japan.

 

Crowd

 

Nick tells me this round won’t have a massive turnout of spectators, but those who turn out are dedicated.

 

Nick San

 

The queues for signatures, posters and a photo with ‘Nick San’ is something all the fans appreciate. It's quite special to watch the gates open and see hordes of fans come running up to their favourite garage to line up, having only just lined up for the last two hours.

 

Gear

 

Everyone is a photographer too. If I didn’t already feel out of my depth in a country I’d never been to, my gear envy hit another level. Even the spectators have equipment worth well over $10,000.

 

 

Photographers

 

Though, the purpose for which it’s used is perhaps another story…

 

Portrait

 

Race day is the big day. Nick’s qualified fifth for the 250km race, meanwhile Kenta is on pole. It’s KONDŌ’s first pole in over five years and the team are buzzing.

 

 

 

Shooting a race at a circuit you’ve never been to can be tough. Mount Panorama, for example, requires you take a bus to the top and back. Fortunately, access at Motegi is good and getting around isn’t hard. The whole circuit is designed with labyrinths of tunnels and passages to get in and outside of the circuit.

 

In car

 

The precious hour before the race goes by quickly. There’s a frenetic 20-minute warm up. Everyone practices pit stops and gets their starts nailed. The circuit is really alive, if only for a short while.

 

Out car

 

No sooner are the cars gridded up, the front straight becomes a car show. Now’s the chance for a few last minute tweeks and changes.

 

With

 

There’s five minutes before lights are out. I wander down to the first turn to get that shot of the start. 

 

Start

 

You can get bogged down shooting week in and week out, but it’s weekends like that which reignite the passion you have for motorsport.

 

I think I'll go back.


This feature was made with the help of our loyal supporters and sponsors. A big thanks goes to Nick, his family and KONDŌ Racing for their hospitality, as well as Russell Yost from SUPER FORMULA for his help.  

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