In the middle of a busy, travel-filled period of time that will see him jet back and forth from Europe to Japan almost every other week, Super GT rookie sensation Nick Cassidy makes a stop in Japan, at a circuit he calls his “favorite track of the year” – Sportsland Sugo, site of this weekend’s Super GT race.
The technical, undulating 3.7 kilometer circuit in Miyagi Prefecture is his favorite track for a reason. In his very first visit to Sugo, just nine months ago, Cassidy clinched a breakthrough championship crown in the All-Japan Formula Three series.
Indeed, it was the perfect weekend for Cassidy last October at Sugo, as he swept both races in the final round of the Japanese Formula 3 season – two wins, two pole positions, two fastest laps – to take the title by sixteen points over his TOM’s Racing teammate Kenta Yamashita at the end of a fierce, but fair fight between the two TOM’s drivers.
Cassidy became the first driver from New Zealand to win the Japanese F3 crown, which had been won previously by the likes of Tom Kristensen, Juichi Wakisaka, Benoit Treluyer, Ronnie Quintarelli, Joao Paulo de Oliveira, and Ryo Hirakawa – just to name a few Super GT drivers, past and present.
More importantly, after years of struggling to find sponsors and put together deals to race full-time in the European ladder to Formula 1, Cassidy was rewarded for his Formula 3 triumph in Japan with his first factory racing deal, as he joined Lexus Team TOM’s in their new-look #36 au RC-F this season – becoming the first driver from New Zealand to race in the GT500 class.
Cassidy has had a solid start to his first full season in Super GT. Paired with former Super GT champion Daisuke Ito, they’re sixth in the GT500 championship with a best finish of fourth at the most recent Fuji 500km in May.
The 21-year-old from Auckland was also able to put together his first full-season deal to race in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship, now driving for the dominant Prema Powerteam organization – that has won every championship since the current iteration of the series began in 2012.
Last weekend at Circuit Park Zandvoort in the Netherlands, Cassidy won his very first European F3 race – and now lies fourth in the championship with four race weekends remaining.
It’s been a life-changing year for Cassidy, between the jump from developmental series to full-on pro racing, and the travels between Europe and Japan (he’ll fly out of Japan to Belgium for the next European F3 round at Spa-Francorchamps next week). He’s scaled back on social media a bit by his own admission, and become fluent in Japanese at a rate that even has fellow Super GT rookie Jann Mardenborough caught off guard.
In his first trip to Sportsland Sugo, Cassidy felt like he was right at home, back on his old stomping grounds like Manfield, Taupo, and Ruapuna Park from his successful years in the TRS.
With momentum on his side, a little bit of the same magic from that first visit could carry this outstanding rookie to another win at his favorite track this Sunday.