Sunday, Sep 8 08:46pm
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Nick Cassidy scores SUPER GT podium after passing frenzy

TOM’S Racing drivers Nick Cassidy and Ryo Hirakawa have scored a seemingly unlikely SUPER GT podium in Round 6 of the series at Autopolis.


It was a race dominated by strategy that eventually saw the no.37 Lexus LC500 as low as eighth in the standings with only a handful of laps to go.


Pole sitter Koudai Tsukakoshi in the no.17 Honda NSX-GT got the hole shot into Turn 1 ahead of the no.8 of Takuya Izawa to make it a Honda one-two early on. Jann Mardenborough in the no.24 Nissan GT-R tried to challenge for second straight away but couldn’t complete a pass. Further behind, Nick Cassidy pushed to get up to the top five but he had to stay put in seventh. At the end of Lap 1 it was the Tsukakoshi who led Izawa and Mardenborough.


There was drama on Lap 3 when last year’s champion Naoki Yamamoto crash heavily at Turn 14 in the no.1 NSX-GT. The Safety Car was quickly brought out and the order neutralized as the recovery teams pulled the car away from the tyre wall and behind the Armco barrier.


After a brief intermission the race restarted on Lap 8. Still it was the no.17 that led, however, this time around it was the no.36 LC500 of Kazuki Nakajima who stormed through to second. Further behind, Cassidy still kept hold of seventh place.


Having been as high as second, the no.8 NSX-GT fell rearwards and down to fifth. Come Lap 19, Kohei Hirate in the no.3 GT-R got loose through the final corner. That gave Cassidy an opportunity to get down the inside to take the place. Cassidy briefly got sixth place but Hirate came across the nose of the LC500 on approach to Turn 3 and stole the spot back.


As the one-third race distance approached the early threat of rain became apparent. All of a sudden the rain began to pour, but only in isolated parts of the circuit.


Come Lap 22, the no.38 LC500 of Yuji Tachikawa surged by Cassidy and then tried to get by Hirate at Turn 3. However, Tachikawa pushed Hirate wide and Cassidy blew by them both to get up to sixth. Despite having a heavier weight handicap and a fuel flow restictor, Cassidy managed to streak away and subsequently dispatch the no.8 of Izawa on Lap 24 at Turn 3 and snag fifth.


Cassidy was the first GT500 entry to pit on Lap 30. He came in and swapped with TOM’S Racing co-driver Ryo Hirakawa. Teammate Kazuki Nakajima came in on Lap 34. The race leading NSX-GT of Tsukakoshi came into the pits on Lap 35 despite the impending threat of rain.


Drama struck as the Safety Car was brought out on Lap 36 for a stricken slower GT300-specification Lamborghini. Despite the Safety Car being out, some cars still managed to spin in the slippery conditions as the rain spread to other parts of the circuit.


With the Safety car deployed the leading Nissan GT-R trio – no.24, no.3 and no.23 – were stranded out on track and couldn’t pit due to the pit lane being closed. With the safety car out the leaders still needed to pit.


A gamble to get on to wet tyres during the pit stop sequence paid dividends for the no.39 and the no.36 LC500 duo. They got themselves into first and second respectively before yet another Safety Car intervention.


The sun broke through and parts of the track began to dry, though it was wet for the most part.


Despite the tricky conditions, Hirakawa opted to stay out. He fell to eighth in the standings with no grip to keep up. Out in front the no.39 of Heikki Kovalainen and Yuichi Nakayama established a handy lead.


The circuit began to dry significantly in the final few laps. That meant many on the full wet of intermediate grooved tyre began to hemorrhage time. What followed was a passing master class by Hirakawa who surged from eighth to fifth in on the penultimate lap and then to third on the final lap.


Having led early on, the no.17 of Koudai Tsukakoshi and Bertrand Baguette managed to come home second while Cassidy and Hirakawa claimed third.


The series moves to Sportsland SUGO for the penultimate round over 21-22 September before the final at Twin Ring Motegi, which will take place on 2-3 November.