Nick Cassidy’s 2020 Super Formula title aspirations have taken a severe knock in the penultimate race of the championship at Suzuka after his engine let go while in a prime position to take victory.
The Kiwi had dominated qualifying to score pole position, had re-set a new lap record and led nine of the 30 laps before he rolled to a halt at the outside of turn one with flames leaving their signature on the engine cover of his TOM’s Toyota.
The almost certain win would have seen Cassidy put one hand on a second championship crown ahead of the Fuji finale. Instead, he sits down in fourth, nine points adrift of title-race leader Naoki Yamamoto.
“The win today was in the bag and the championship would have been too,” Cassidy told Autosport after the race.
“It was the first perfect day we’d put together, so just heart-breaking to have that happen when I could’ve basically walked home with a second championship.”
The race itself was won by Toshiki Oyu who was promoted to the race lead after Cassidy’s engine drama. He then resisted a late attack by Nirei Fukuzumi, crossing the line with four-tenths in hand to claim a maiden series win.
The start of the race also proved to be chaotic with Sacha Fenestraz crashing out at the final chicane on the opening lap, which yielded a safety car.
Erstwhile points leader Naoki Yamamoto then suffered a terminal gearbox glitch while behind the safety car. Until then, he had been running third.
When Cassidy rolled to a halt on lap nine, race control deployed the race’s second safety car and it triggered a flurry of activity in the pitlane.
Oyu re-joined the circuit third on the road but crucially was the leading driver to have made a pitstop.
When the third and final safety car came out, this time after Yuji Kunimoto picked up a puncture and spun in the S-curves, race leaders Nobuharu Matsushita and Ukyo Sasahara made their pitstops and elevated Oyu back to the head of the queue.
Seeing off a challenge by Fukuzumi over the remaining laps, Oyu duly went on to become the sixth different winner in 2020 and climbs up to tenth in the standings.
With one round remaining, Yamamoto and Ryo Hirakawa are tied for a share of the points lead. Tomoki Nojiri is third but eight points adrift with only 23 on offer for the weekend.
Cassidy still has an outside chance to steal a second series title but believes it will be a near-on impossible task after today’s failure.
“I’m confident about the pace, but I think I’ll have a 10-place grid penalty [for an engine change].
“Today we had the chance to close the championship, so to go from that situation to an outside chance really hurts.”
The Fuji finale will be on December 20. It will mark Cassidy’s last race in the championship before he makes a switch to Formula E in 2021.