Nick Cassidy has won the 2019 Super Formula title after finishing second at Suzuka behind race winner Tomoki Nojiri.
Palou Enhances Title Chances with Pole Position
Alex Palou claimed one championship point after claiming Pole Position at Suzuka with a time of 1:35.972.
Tomoki Nojiri was a tenth of a second slower in second, ahead of Red Bull junior Lucas Auer.
Nirei Fukuzumi was fourth place, ahead of championship contenders Naoki Yamamoto and Nick Cassidy.
Koudai Tsukakoshi produced his best performance of the season in seventh, ahead of Tadasuke Makino.
Elsewhere in the title picture, Kenta Yamashita could only manage 11th, with Kamui Kobayashi way down in 16th place.
Palou Sets Pace as Cassidy Fights Through The Pack
When the race got underway, Palou led from Nojiri, with Auer stalling from third on the grid.
This allowed Yamamoto to take the position after passing Dandelion teammate Fukuzumi into Turn 1.
Further back, Kobayashi’s slim title chances were dealt a huge blow.
Before the start of the formation lap, KCMG left Kobayashi on the dummy wet tyres, forcing an early pit stop for dry tyres.
With a second stop necessary for the pit window, Kobayashi’s championship hopes were crushed.
Early Pit Stops Sees Cassidy Go Long
As Palou extended his lead in the early stages, Nick Cassidy began to fight through towards the front.
After dispatching Tsukakoshi and Fukuzumi in quick succession, Cassidy hunted down Yamamoto for third place.
At the end of the third lap, Cassidy expertly passed the defending champion into the chicane to take the position.
At the end of Lap 7, Yamamoto was the first of the title challengers to make their first scheduled stop.
After rejoining amongst the midfield, the majority of the field did the same, including Palou and Yamashita.
Conversely, Cassidy stayed out in second place behind Nojiri but was starting to lose time on worn softs.
Behind them, Yuhi Sekiguchi, Hiroaki Ishiura, Juri Vips, Yuichi Nakayama and Auer were all yet to stop.
Palou and Yamamoto Go Wheel-to-Wheel at 130R
Now in eighth position, Palou started to come under pressure from Fukuzumi, with Yamamoto close behind.
Despite some good defending from the Spaniard, Fukuzumi made his move. Going around the outside of 130R, the Honda protege driver passed with ease to take eighth place.
It didn’t take too long for Yamamoto to catch up to Palou and on the run up to 130R , the same manoeuvre was attempted.
However, Palou held his line and as Yamamoto went to pass on the outside, the two cars banged wheels.
Consequently, Yamamoto was forced onto the run-off area and lost valuable time.
When he recovered the lost, Yamamoto made the pass successfully at the same corner, this time down the inside for ninth.
However, the two additional laps to pass Palou had cost Yamamoto six seconds to teammate Fukuzumi.
Palou’s descent down the order continued as his tyre woes became apparent.
Within one lap, Palou dropped to 13th behind Tsukakoshi, Ryo Hirakawa and Yamashita.
Strategic Battle Between Cassidy and Yamamoto Heats Up
Back at the front, the leading pair of Nojiri and Cassidy continued to stay out as the tyres came back to them.
Cassidy held a substantial lead over ninth-placed Yamamoto to pit and rejoin ahead of his title rival.
With Palou, Yamashita and Kobayashi all outside of the points, it became clear the title would go to either Yamamoto or Cassidy.
With 17 laps to go, Vips made his only stop from fifth place. However, the Estonian stalled on pit exit, eventually finishing 18th.
A lap later, Palou made a second stop for soft tyres, dropping into last place as a result.
Shortly after, Sekiguchi pitted from third place and rejoined ahead of Yamamoto.
This was good news for Team TOM’s and Cassidy, as Sekiguchi was four seconds behind them before his stop.
However, with 11 laps to go, Yamamoto quickly sent out a warning.
On the approach to the chicane, Yamamoto passed Ishiura for seventh, after the latter’s pit stop.
With ten laps remaining, Nojiri pitted from the race lead, who rejoined ahead of Fukuzumi.
In response, Cassidy made his stop for the medium tyres. On pit exit, Cassidy also got out ahead of Fukuzumi.
With only Auer left to stop, Nojiri was in the net lead ahead of Cassidy and Fukuzumi third.
Behind them, Yamamoto was still stuck behind Sekiguchi, as a result of his early duel with Palou. To add to his woes, he was also struggling with tyre wear.
Nojiri Wins as Cassidy Becomes Champion
In the latter stages, the running order at the front remained unchanged.
This allowed Tomoki Nojiri to win the season finale at Suzuka; his first Super Formula win since 2014.
Additionally, Nick Cassidy’s second place finish was enough to secure the Super Formula title.
After the race, Cassidy reflected on his relationships with Team TOM’s and Toyota:
“Yeah, it looked so, so tough. I don’t know what to say.”
“My team have been amazing. I’ve now won every championship in Japan with TOM’s. But that doesn’t say everything about me, but says everything about them.”
“They’re a great group of people, they’re like my family and I’m just happy to be the guy that can repay them for that.”
Cassidy also reflected his season:
“Look, it’s so difficult.”
“Emotionally, it’s very up and down. Because they are some many great drivers in this championship, it is hard to be at the top all the time.”
“But it’s about the days you’re not at the top to make the most [of it], and I think we did that well this year.”
“When we were not fast, we got a good result and when we were fast, we could get the result.”
“Again, thanks to Toyota, Gazoo Racing, TOM’s and my family.”
Behind him, Nirei Fukuzumi claimed his first podium in the series with third place.
Yuhi Sekiguchi was fourth, ahead of championship runner-up Naoki Yamamoto and Hiroaki Ishiura.
However, Dandelion Racing did have something to cheer about after securing the Teams’ Championship.
Koudai Tsukakoshi earned his first points of the season in seventh, with Ryo Hirakawa rounding up the top eight.
Kenta Yamashita was just outside of the points in ninth, with Kamui Kobayashi recovering to 12th. Alex Palou’s season ended in underwhelming circumstances in 19th place.
Final Championship Standings
In the final Drivers’ standings, Nick Cassidy is on top with 36 points, and three ahead of Naoki Yamamoto.
Alex Palou remains in third place with 26 points, with Tomoki Nojiri’s victory moving him into fourth place.
2019 Super Formula Championship – Drivers’ Standings
Nick Cassidy (NZL), Vantelin Team TOM’s 36 Points
Naoki Yamamoto (JPN), Docomo Team Dandelion Racing 33
Alex Palou (ESP), TCS Nakajima Racing 26
Tomoki Nojiri (JPN), Team Mugen 24
Kenta Yamashita, Kondo Racing (JPN) 21
Kamui Kobayashi (JPN), carrozzeria Team KCMG 19
Nirei Fukuzumi (JPN), Docomo Team Dandelion Racing 18
Yuhi Sekiguchi (JPN), Itochu Enex Team Impul 16
Lucas Auer (AUT), B-Max Racing with Motopark 14
Ryo Hirakawa (JPN), Itochu Enex Team Impul 12
Sho Tsuboi (JPN), JMS P.mu Cerumo INGING 12
Kazuki Nakajima (JPN), Vantelin Team TOM’s 12
Hiroaki Ishiura (JPN), JMS P.mu Cerumo INGING 10
Kazuya Oshima (JPN), SUNOCO Team Le Mans 7
Harrison Newey (GBR), B-Max Racing with Motopark 6
Tadasuke Makino (JPN), TCS Nakajima Racing 6
Yuji Kunimoto (JPN), Kondo Racing 5
Patricio O’Ward (MEX), Team Mugen 3
Koudai Tsukakoshi (JPN), Real Racing 2
Dan Ticktum (GBR), Team Mugen 1