Young New Zealand open-wheel racer Nick Cassidy has started his Japanese Formula Three championship with a win at the opening round at Suzuka.
Cassidy is a former NZ Grand Prix winner and Toyota Racing Series champion. Despite this, the Kiwi has struggled to nail a fulltime gig overseas. He’s raced in a number of European categories including Euro F3 and Formula Renault with some success, but it wasn’t until his third place at the high-profile Macau Grand Prix in November that teams took notice.
First to snap him up was the Japan-based TOM’s Toyota F3 outfit.
“After Macau the team said they had confidence in me, which in turn made me have confidence in myself — it’s a good feeling,” Cassidy said.
“This is the first time in a few years that I’m in a similar position to most of the other guys where I’ve been able to do a full pre-season test and know that I’m going to do the entire championship.
“In the past I’ve had to step in for the odd race with little or no testing. Now I get to be on a level playing field with everyone else, which is really cool.”
Cassidy’s race weekend began with him beating reigning champion and teammate Kenta Yamashita to pole position for both races.
He raced to a win in the first race, only to be handed a 40-second penalty for an incident with his teammate, dropping him to 10th.
In race two Cassidy proved his previous “win” was no fluke by again setting the fastest lap time on his way to an official win.
“In my eyes it was two wins. I was happy with the Saturday race despite the penalty and it’s a great start to the season,” said Cassidy as he prepared to leave for Europe.
“The pace we had in qualifying was mega, which was a pretty cool feeling and we translated that into race pace. I’m relatively inexperienced at the F3 level and to get that first win builds on the confidence I got from Macau.
‘‘I don’t have any experience of the tracks here but the team does, and having all that data helps.”
Shortly after he nailed the F3 drive BMW offered Cassidy another opportunity.
Next week Cassidy flies to Europe to join the BMW Motorsport Junior Programme and another option for his career. The German manufacturer talent-spots who they think are the best young drivers and gives them the opportunity to race in selected rounds of the VLN Endurance championship.
“Macau has had a huge influence on my career and they [BMW] got in touch with me shortly after the race. Having a good result there has meant a lot and now I have to build on that with both opportunities.
“My priority is Japan, but the TOM’s guys are keen and supportive that I keep active during the year and get a lot of race kilometres under my belt.
“I’ll get to do three endurance races as part of the programme, but that’s not why I’m doing it. It’s more for the future as there are a number of mental coaching and simulator training camps during the year. That’s part of the attraction for me — building on that sort of stuff and building a relationship with another manufacturer.
After Europe, Cassidy will concentrate on the next round of his Japanese F3 adventure, at Motegi on May 9-10.