Nick Cassidy has consolidated a seventh-placed finish in the latest round of the Super GT championship from Suzuka Circuit.
It was always going to be a difficult race for Cassidy and co-driver Ryo Hirakawa who were significantly nerfed by a success ballast courtesy of their early season dominance.
Victory was claimed by Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda in the #23 NISMO Nissan GTR who secured their first win in over two years.
A disappointing qualifying after being forced to bear 58kgs of added ballast, Cassidy was given the helm of the #37 TOMs Supra to take the start down in 11th. A composed launch by the Kiwi ensured he kept position through the daunting S curves that characterise Suzuka.
The pole-sitting Nakajima Honda NSX piloted by Takuya Izawa maintained its advantage at the head having fended off a stern challenge by the #23 NISMO Nissan GTR before the race’s first Safety Car was deployed moments later to recover the #30 Toyota Prius which had come buried under the tyre barriers at Turn 6.
A commanding restart by the leading Honda ensured Izawa maintained the lead of the race but it was drama behind as the Red Bull Mugen Honda of Hideki Mutoch crawled to a halt along the main straight with an errant left-rear wheel making a bid for freedom.
The bizarre incident gifted Cassidy 10th position but it became evident over the opening few tours the #37 Supra was struggling to stay in touch with the front runners which became entangled with slower GT300 traffic after nine laps.
The battle for the race lead was heating up with the Team Zent Supra moving into second and closing within striking distance of Izawa for the lead. But an overly opportunistic lunge by the Supra at the final chicane resulted in the leaders clashing with the Supra skipping the corner entirely promoting itself into first.
Race control did not take too kindly to the incident and demanded the position be redressed. But it would only be a brief lead for the Honda who was demoted from the lead by a hard-charging Quintarelli in the #23 GTR with a late lunge at the Hairpin on Lap 15.
The Zent Supra then followed through for second moments later as the leading Honda looked flustered in navigating traffic. But the biggest mover would be Tadasuke Makino in the #100 Honda who charged into second after a flurry of fast laps.
Further back, Cassidy looked to exploit the slow-moving traffic and nullify his weight advantage, pulling off a move on the #19 Supra on Lap 16 just before the race’s second Safety Car was deployed to recover some stricken bodywork at 130R.
Several drivers opted to pit off the restart but TOMs left Cassidy out for five more tours which saw the Kiwi momentarily lead the race before handing control of the wheel to Hirakawa on the 27th tour. Hirakawa emerged in a train of traffic but maintained ninth place with a little under half the race remaining.
The field was bunched up again just two laps later behind the Safety Car to recover a GT300 Audi R8 who had become beached in the sandtrap at Turn 3.
It allowed Hirakawa to latch onto the back of the GT500 leaders and was promoted to eighth when Nirei Fukuzumi punted Yuichi Nakayama off the road at the hairpin and again was elevated a spot to seventh with a late move on the #17 Honda on the penultimate lap.
Having taken control of the leading machine after the second Safety Car restart, Matsuda looked in complete cruise control to open up a four-second lead at the chequered flag over the #100 Honda who eased home in second for their first podium of the year.
Cassidy and Hirakawa have now lost some ground in the championship to TOMs Supra teammates Yuhi Sekiguchi and Sacha Fenestraz who finished an impressive third despite carrying 60kgs of ballast. The margin between the two has been extended to eight points with five races remaining.
The fourth round of the Super GT championship will be staged at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit on September 13.