Season Review: 2019 Super Formula – Cassidy Edges Yamamoto to Take First Title

by Paul Hensby

At the end of a tough campaign that went down to the wire, New Zealander Nick Cassidy ended the 2019 Super Formula season as champion, outlasting four other drivers in the season finale at the Suzuka International Racing Course.

Across the seven rounds there were seven different victors across six different teams, and only three points separated Cassidy from 2018 champion Naoki Yamamoto when the final chequered flag of the season fell.

Other drivers had their moment in the spotlight, but ultimately Cassidy’s consistency won the day, while DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing edged out the Teams’ Championship, their first title since 2012.

Nick Cassidy took home the 2019 Super Formula title – Credit: Super Formula

Cassidy Starts with a Win – from Twelfth

Cassidy, racing in 2019 with the Vantelin Team TOM’S outfit, did not start the season well after qualifying in twelfth at Suzuka for the opening round of the season, but a strategic gamble and a lucky safety car intervention ensured he took the opening victory of the season.

Former FIA Formula 2 racer Tadasuke Makino and his Spanish team-mate Alex Palou had locked out the front row for TCS Nakajima Racing and initially held the first two positions, but a quartet of safety car periods shuffled up the pack, and when Kamui Kobayashi made his mandatory pit stop on the penultimate lap, Cassidy found himself in the lead and with the victory.

Yamamoto, racing for Dandelion Racing, secured second as Kobayashi’s pit stop relegated him outside of the points.  Kondo Racing’s Kenta Yamashita completed the podium, while the early leaders, Makino and Palou, both retired, the former crashing out at Spoon Curve and the latter retiring after losing drive. 

The Red Bull Junior Team duo of Lucas Auer (B-Max Racing with Motopark) and Daniel Ticktum (Team Mugen) rounded out the points scorers in seventh and eighth, finishing behind Tomoki Nojiri (Team Mugen), Sho Tsuboi (JMS P.mu/cerumo – INGING) and Yuji Kunimoto (Kondo Racing).

Sekiguchi wins at Autopolis – from Sixteenth!

The championship then went on to Autopolis, with Yuhi Sekiguchi securing victory despite having started down in sixteenth position on the grid, thanks to being unable to get a lap together in the delayed wet qualifying session prior to the race.

Early pit stops and a safety car intervention saw a shuffled up order, but Sekiguchi, racing for Itochu Enex Team Inpul, gambled on staying out, with an early pass on Kunimoto for the lead proving crucial as he was able to gap his rivals before his mandatory trip to the pits.

When he finally made his pit stop on lap forty, he was able to retain his lead, and he finished 3.633 seconds clear of Yamamoto at the chequered flag, with Kazuya Oshima claiming the final spot on the podium for UOMO Sunoco Team LeMans.

Makino and former FIA Formula 3 racer winner Nirei Fukuzumi (DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing) finished just off the podium in fourth and fifth, while Palou scored his first Super Formula points with a sixth-place finish ahead of Yamashita and Cassidy.

Ticktum’s afternoon at Autopolis was over after less than two laps after a crash, while a repair job from his mechanics following a crash during qualifying left Artem Markelov (UOMO Sunoco Team LeMans) four laps down at the start.  Unfortunately, he would almost immediately pull off the track with an apparent suspension failure.

Naoki Yamamoto narrowly missed out on retaining his title – Credit: Super Formula

Yamamoto Finally Takes the Win

For the first time in 2019, the pole position winner was able to take the race victory, with Yamamoto extending his early advantage in the championship standings with a lights to flag win at Sugo.

Early on, Yamamoto battled Nojiri for the lead, but delays getting through traffic gave the Dandelion driver the gap he needed to come out on top, while the Mugen driver’s afternoon as he attempted to fight back ended up with him stuck in the gravel trap and out of the race.

Behind Yamamoto, Kobayashi was able to take advantage of traffic to deny Auer second position, although the German’s third place gave the new B-Max by Motopark partnership their first podium finish in Super Formula.

Cassidy took fourth, albeit only just from Palou, although the latter was handed a post-race penalty that saw him relegated well outside of the points in thirteenth.  This promoted Fukuzumi to fifth ahead of Yamashita, with Hiroaki Ishiura (JMS P.mu/cerumo – INGING) and Kunimoto completed the points scorers.

Sugo marked Ticktum’s last appearance of the year in Super Formula and with the Red Bull Junior Team programme, with Mexican Patricio O’Ward being drafted in at Team Mugen at his expense.

Rookie Palou Springs a Surprise at Fuji

Palou took pole position at Fuji Speedway and despite treacherous conditions, took a commanding maiden victory, the first win for a rookie in 2019.

Such was his domination, the Spaniard was 13.359 seconds clear of the chasing pack at the chequered flag, with the victory giving his Nakajima Racing squad their first Super Formula victory since 2010!

In a race full of firsts, reigning Japanese Formula 3 champion Tsoboi took his maiden podium finish with second place, while Cassidy claimed the final spot on the podium after an early pass on Nojiri following a very early safety car intervention.

Behind Nojiri was TOM’s Kazuki Nakajima for his first points finish of the season, while Kobayashi rose from the back row of the grid to finish sixth ahead of Ishiura and Sekiguchi, while championship leader Yamamoto ended down in eleventh after a troubled afternoon that included a spin.

Alex Palou was the stand out rookie of 2019, winning once and taking three pole positions – Credit: Super Formula

Hirakawa Scores First Points of 2019 with Motegi Victory

Ryo Hirakawa had failed to trouble the points paying positions in the opening four races of the season, but the trip to Twin Ring Motegi saw a swing of his luck as the Itochu Enex Team Inpul driver took the victory.

Early on, Palou held onto the lead and looked on course for a second consecutive victory, but the Nakajima Racing driver was reeled in by Hirakawa before being passed around the outside on lap twenty-three.

A later pit stop enabled Kobayashi to claim second position, while Cassidy passed Palou for the final spot on the podium with just six laps remaining, although the Spaniard was able to hold on to fourth ahead of Fukuzumi and Ishiura. 

The top eight was rounded out by Auer and Nojiri, while a failure to score points for a second consecutive race cost Yamamoto the championship lead, with Cassidy taking over at the top thanks to his podium finish.

Yamashita Takes Maiden Win at Okayama

Fresh off his win at Motegi, Hirakawa took a surprise pole position at the Okayama International Circuit, but it was Yamashita and Kendo Racing who were celebrating at the chequered flag.

Hirakawa kept the lead at the start but a safety car intervention saw strategies being split, with the Team Inpul one of a few to stay on track, a decision that was ultimately the wrong one.  He dropped behind Cassidy on lap fifty-eight, and ultimately outside of the points once he made his pit stop.

Championship leader Cassidy was also using the same strategy but was unable to create a big enough gap ahead of his pit stop, giving Yamashita the lead and ultimately the victory, with Nakajima taking his first podium finish of the season in second ahead of Harrison Newey, who had by far his strongest outing of the season in third for B-Max with Motopark.

Palou was the leading championship contender in the result in fourth ahead of Auer, while O’Ward scored his first points of the year in sixth.  Yamamoto’s seventh place ensured he regained the lead of the championship, while Oshima scored the final point in eighth.

Cassidy’s chance of points ended after contact with Kobayashi saw the New Zealander suffer a half spin, with the incident seeing him end the day outside the top eight in tenth behind Nojiri.

Tomoki Nojiri ended the year with victory in Suzuka – Credit: Super Formula

Nojiri Rounds out 2019 with Victory as Cassidy Takes Title

Yamamoto came into the season finale with a single point advantage over Cassidy at the head of the standings, while Palou also had his fate in his own hands, sitting as he did only four points back.  Both Yamashita (eight points back) and Kobayashi (ten points back) also came to Suzuka with an outside chance of the title.

Palou gave him a superb chance of snatching the title in his maiden campaign by taking pole position, but it was not to be for the Spaniard, who endured car issues on his way to a nineteenth place finish, leaving the championship a clear battle between Yamamoto and Cassidy.

Nojiri, who had started on the front row alongside Palou, headed the field until his mandatory pit stop and the retook the lead when Auer made his stop, and went on to take his first win in Super Formula for five years.

Cassidy drove a smart race to end second and ensure the championship went to New Zealand, with Fukuzumi ending the year with a podium finish ahead of Sekiguchi, while Yamamoto’s title defence ended with a fifth-place finish and second in the final standings.

Ishiura ended the finale in sixth, while Koudai Tsukakoshi took his and Real Racing’s first and only points of the season in seventh ahead of Hirakawa.

Cassidy Prevails in Close Campaign

Coming into the year, Nick Cassidy had something to prove after losing out to Naoki Yamamoto for the title at the death in 2018, but the Toyota-powered driver ensured he gained revenge on his rival, albeit by a very small margin.

Seven drivers managed to take the chequered flag first in 2019, but the consistency of Cassidy was ultimately the deciding factor, with only one failure to score all season long, which came as a result of contact with Kobayashi at Okayama.  Three podium finishes on top of his win compared to two for Yamamoto meant Cassidy became the first non-Japanese champion of Super Formula since 2011.

Of course, it wasn’t all about Cassidy and Yamamoto, with Alex Palou perhaps surprising many by keeping himself in the championship battle and looking at one point to be favourite as he held the lead in the season finale.

Ultimately it wasn’t meant to be for the Spaniard, but he had proven once more that he is a talent behind the wheel, and it is perhaps no surprise that he has found himself a drive in the IndyCar Series for 2020 with Dale Coyne Racing.

Fifteen drivers scored podiums but ultimately there were some disappointments throughout the year, perhaps none as shocking as Daniel Ticktum’s early departure from not only the series but also the Red Bull Junior Team.  He had only scored one point in his opening three races, well below what was expected, and he found himself ousted in favour of Patricio O’Ward, although the Mexican also lasted only three rounds before Jüri Vips took his place in the season finale.

Nick Cassidy’s second place at Suzuka brought him the title – Credit: Super Formula

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