Cassidy and teammate Ryo Hirakawa gave the all-new Toyota GR Supra a win in its first race outing, with the marque locking out the top five positions at its home track.
It was a straightforward victory for the #37 TOM’S pair, who started on pole and then survived two safety car restarts – the latter of which wiped out a lead of more than 20 seconds – to win by five seconds over the sister #36 Supra.
Honda’s new front-engined NSX-GT came close to taking pole earlier in the day, and the #100 Team Kunimitsu entry of Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino held second in the early stages before dropping all the way to sixth in the final reckoning.
Cassidy described the victory as “100 percent my easiest” of the six he has taken at the wheel of GT500 machinery, and cited tyre selection as the key to the #37 car’s speed.
“We have tyres different for different temperature ranges, and it hasn’t been so clear during testing which ones to go for,” Cassidy told Motorsport.com. “So there ended up being a split not only across Honda and Toyota, but within the Toyota camp as well.
“It’s quite rare in SUPER GT, but this year we’ve all come to the opening weekend with some differences. Once everyone converges to a single tyre, it becomes a bit more stable, but [in this race] it was just very temperature-dependent.
“The #37 and #36 at the moment have different set-ups, different tyres, different everything. It’s kind of like two different teams, to be honest.”
#37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
The only time the #37 car came under any real threat as the first safety car restart, as second-placed Nirei Fukuzumi tried to launch an attack on Cassidy at Turn 1.
But the New Zealander said he knew the ARTA car – which finally faded to eighth – was running much soft rubber and wouldn’t be a threat over a race distance.
“We knew they were on a very soft tyre, which warms up very fast,” said Cassidy. “I knew before the race I just had to keep him behind for two or three laps.
“I was watching my dash to see where my tyres were at, I knew we were coming in [to the temperature window] soon, and after that corner I was able to start getting away.”
Hirakawa inherited an 18-second lead from Cassidy, which was lost in the second safety car period, but he eased away from the sister TOM’S Supra of Yuhi Sekiguchi at the restart.
He said afterwards that he felt losing the lead he and Cassidy had built helped him focus.
“[The safety car] was unlucky, but I knew there were a lot of GT300 cars having trouble so I knew it was a possibility,” recalled Hirakawa.
“Then again, with a lead of more than 20 seconds, I may not have been able to focus. We lost our advantage, but I think I was able to focus and drive well because of that.”
Additional reporting by Tomohiro Yoshida
Ryo Hirakawa, Nick Cassidy（#37 KeePer TOM’S GR Supra）
Photo by: Masahide Kamio