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Nick Cassidy - The Champion Next Door


He wears that boyish, and slightly impish ‘boy next door’ look and a slightly unruly floppy fringe of blond hair. He could be anywhere from 17 to maybe 26 years old.

He’s learning Japanese but his accent is still pure Kiwi. Multiple Toyota Racing Series (TRS) champion, New Zealand Grand Prix winner 2012-2014, Japanese Formula Three champion 2015, Japanese Super GT champion 2017 – Cassidy may well be the most successful Kiwi race driver you've never heard of.

Cassidy is one of the most successful products of the TRS in its 14-year history, and his race-winning versatility behind the wheel was emphatically on display last year when he shot to the forefront of the Japanese Super GT and Super Formula Championships.

How tough was the Super Formula season last year? Cassidy was driving a Toyota-powered ‘wings and slicks’ single-seater with 450kW (600+ bhp) – more power than a 2016 Formula One car – and was up against a high quality field of drivers that included four from the exalted ranks of Formula One: Kazuki Nakajima, Andre Lotterer, Kamui Kobayashi and Pierre Gasly.

Not bad for a lad from Auckland who cut his teeth in the domestic karting scene at the tender age of six and who says he has ‘always’ wanted to race.

Karting was his passion for four years, although he also diverted to speedway and drove midgets at age eight.

Alongside those early steps, Cassidy started competing in full sized openwheelers. First was Formula First, where he was runner-up (and rookie of the year) in 2009. The following year he moved up to Formula Ford and was again runner-up and rookie of the year.

It was in 2011, though, that things shifted up a gear. Cassidy secured sponsorship for a tilt at the TRS, running with the Giles Motorsport team. With Stephen Giles guiding his debut he logged five podium finishes and then won two of the three races in the final weekend.

He was rookie of the year (again) and runner-up (again), this time behind team-mate Mitch Evans. Cassidy was all about versatility, grabbing drives wherever he could.

He drove Formula Ford in Australia then flew to Germany for the Formel Masters Formula Three championship and to Italy to race Formula Abarth. He also managed to cram in five races of the Fujitsu V8 Supercar Series, feeder category to the mighty Australian V8 Supercar Championship.

In 2012 Cassidy returned to Giles Motorsport and the TRS. He was up against a field that included the fast but mercurial Hannes van Asseldonk, Ferrari Driver Academy inductee Raffaele Marciello and Josh Hill, son of 2006 Formula One champion Damon Hill. Also racing were Gerhard Berger’s nephew Lucas ‘Luggi’ Auer and British driver Jordan King, who will this year race Indycars for Ed Carpenter Racing.

The 2012 TRS was a classic of its time. Drivers ranged in age from 16 (Shahaan Engineer and Victor Sendin) to 70 (New Zealand’s own ageless Kenny Smith, the ‘racer’s racer’ and mentor to whole generations of aspiring Kiwi drivers). From the chilling sleet of Teretonga to the baking heat of Manfeild, it is fair to say Cassidy demolished his opposition.

He won the most races (five) and set the highest number of fastest laps. He stood on the podium no fewer than 10 times in the 15-race series. And when the series ended, he was almost 200 points clear of van Asseldonk, a driver many had tipped as a potential Formula One racer.

Today, Cassidy lives in Japan for most of the year in order to fulfil his racing and promotional duties for the two factory-supported race drives. To have been invited to contest the two championships last year with Toyota and Lexus was a huge honour. To be confirmed for 2018 in the same roles is a measure of the respect in which this young Kiwi is held.

As defending champion he knows he is a target for every other driver in the Super GT Championship and he is determined to go all the way in Super Formula. In Super GT he will run a Lexus LC 500; in Super Formula he straps into a Toyota-powered Dallara single seater. “I think Super GT will be a season-long development battle. The roles are a bit reversed from last year and we will be playing catch-up.”

Cassidy has a positive outlook on the eight-round series, which runs between April and November. “I think we are more advanced than at the same time last year.”

Cassidy and co-driver Ryo Hirakawa have retained the same engineer and team of mechanics that took them to the Super GT title in 2017. They face tougher opposition in 2018, with former Formula One Grand Prix winner Jensen Button joining a Honda team full time and drivers from Toyota’s World Endurance sports car programme joining the fray.

The Super GT championship starts at Okayama in the weekend of 7 and 8 April. Cassidy will also be kept busy by the seven-round Super Formula single-seater championship, which uses the same 600-horsepower engines as Super GT.

Even though he had a podium place and a pole position in 2017, Cassidy expects it will be harder this year.

“It will be difficult to replicate those results. I have the same package as last year, but we haven’t got a lot of new stuff to try on the car. We now have a year’s experience in the Kondo team, but as in Super GT there are a lot of good drivers in Super Formula.”

Series regulations limit the team to five days' testing before the championship starts at Suzuka in April.