Nick Cassidy has bowed out to his time in Super Formula with an enthralling drive to finish fourth in the season finale at Fuji Speedway despite starting from dead last.
The Kiwi was slammed with a penalty on both of his fastest laps in qualifying which demoted him to the last row of the grid.
However, he would soon be elevated up to 12th by the end of a frantic opening lap. Even before the race, there was drama when Yuhi Sekiguchi caught fire in the warm-up. Charles Milesi then spun on his reconnaissance lap to the grid.
Pole-sitter Tomoki Nojiri was powerless to defend his lead from the fast-starting Sho Tsuboi and Nobuharu Matsushita on the dash into turn one.
Points leader Naoki Yamamoto slotted right in behind Nojiri in fourth, two spots up on championship challenger Ryo Hirakawa. Cassidy, meanwhile, had effortlessly worked himself up eight positions.
Unfortunately, the aerodynamic wake of the leading cars had Cassidy’s charge hit pause. He would only leapfrog himself up into the lead on lap 22 of 40 as the rest of the field made their compulsory round of pitstops.
The New Zealander’s lead was upwards of 30-seconds at one stage, but he was soon compelled into making his pitstop when Nojiri halted at the hairpin with a puncture.
Anticipating a safety car that never eventuated, Cassidy had placed himself into sixth after emerging from the pitlane on Lap 31.
Picking off Hirakawa on his out lap, a fresh tyre-shod Cassidy was electric and on lap 34 had a narrowed a three-second margin to Yamamoto. The TOM’S Toyota driver then muscled his way past his rival with an aggressive move into turn 3, which would earn him a poor sportsman flag.
The deficit to the top-three was a little over four seconds, with Cassidy continually lighting up the timing screens with rapid sector times.
However, once latching onto the rear of the now four-car tussle for the lead, Cassidy was unable to make any further ground. He would fall one place shy of scoring an incredible final race podium.
Tsuboi clung on for his second race win of the season. Toshiki Oyu, who had benefitted from a later pitstop, claimed second while Matsushita rounded off the podium-placers.
Despite finishing ahead of him on the road, Cassidy still couldn’t deny Yamamoto from earning his third Super Formula title.
The Japanese racer finished the season just two points ahead of Hirakawa, who would ultimately cross the line only one spot behind the eventual champion on the track.
For Cassidy, the 25-year-old ends his title defence season fourth in the points race – tied on 50 with Tsuboi but only having one race win to his name over Tsuboi’s double.