Nick Cassidy turned in a great drive, climbing from 9th to first place starting the defence of his Super GT title in his Lexus LC 500 at the Okayama 300 kms race last night.
A slow pit stop saw co-driver Ryo Hirakawa bring the car home third.
Having only qualified ninth, Aucklander Cassidy had some work to do when the race started. By lap 38 he was in the lead, having overtaken three cars on the first lap to begin his charge up the field.
With the Lexus having the best race pace in the field, Cassidy steadily picked off those in front of him, rising to fifth on lap 8, fourth on lap 14 and climbing into a podium place on lap 22.
Lapping the slower GT300 class cars slowed the New Zealand Grand Prix winner’s progress but he took the lead from top qualifier Kondai Tsukakoshi on lap 38.
The pit stop on lap 45 for the driver change, new tyres and fuel proved to be pivotal. It was four seconds longer than Tsukakoshi’s NSX which regained the lead.
Cassidy’s co-driver Ryo Hirakawa returned to the track in third but dropped a place as the tyres had not heated up to racing temperature.
He regained the place and was pressuring the second placed car of 2009 Formula One World Champion Jensen Button when the race finished.
The second race in the eight-round championship is at the Fuji circuit on Friday 4 May.
Okayama 300 kms, 82 laps, Round 1, Super GT Championship.
1, K Tsukakoshi, T Kogure (Honda NSX);
2, J Button, N Yamamoto (Honda NSX) 1.61 seconds behind;
3, N Cassidy, R Hirakawa (Lexus LC500) 5.582;
4, K Oshima, F Rosenqvist (Lexus LC500) 5.759;
5, T Matsuda, R Quintarelli (Nissan GTR) 36.990.