Young Kiwi Nick Cassidy is aiming for a big double double at Manfeild this weekend – winning both the New Zealand Grand Prix and the Toyota Racing Series championship for the second year running.
The 18-year-old Aucklander enjoyed a very successful 2012 season but he knows the series is tougher than ever this year, with several of the 17 overseas drivers set for a season in the high-level European Formula 3 championship.
“The top five or six are fast,” Cassidy says. Indeed they have proved that with success in European competition.
The international challenge is also stronger this season because several of the drivers – including front-runners Lucas Auer (Austria), Alex Lynn (England) and Felix Serralles (Puerto Rico) – are back for a second season in the Toyotas, and are therefore familiar with the cars and the circuits.
Cassidy goes to Manfeild 32 points ahead of Auer, a slim margin when the weekend takes in three races each offering 75 points to the winner.
So far the young Kiwi has won just one of the 12 races in the series, often handicapped by problems in qualifying that forced him to start from back on the grid. When he was able to start from pole in one race at Hampton Downs last weekend, he ran away from the field and set the fastest lap of the meeting.
“We showed the pace we’ve probably had all year, but qualifying has not helped us all year,” Cassidy says.
“I set fastest lap in two of the races, and I’ve had the fastest lap in more than half the races. When I had no one in front of me, I could show my speed.”
Cassidy’s strength has been his precision – he is the only one of the top group not to have been involved in a crash.
The final Toyota race at Manfeild is the 58th running of the New Zealand Grand Prix, one of only two non-Formula One races officially recognised as a GP by the FIA, the world controlling body. The other is the F3 event in Macau.
“For the international guys it’s probably just another race in the series but I know its history, the guys who have won it in the past,” Cassidy, a keen student of motor racing history, says. Those names include Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren, Jackie Stewart, Chris Amon and Keke Rosberg.
The GP is 35 laps long, when most of the other races in the series are 15. Cassidy says drivers will need to look after their tyres and find a setup that will keep the tyres working well for the duration.
The meeting also sees round three of the NZV8s Championship, with Australian Jason Bargwanna just two points ahead of Hamilton’s Martin Short. Both drive the fast new-generation cars, Bargwanna a Holden Commodore and Short a Toyota Camry, while Cambridge driver Nick Ross is third in another Commodore.
Aucklander Haydn Mackenzie joins the fray in a new-generation Ford Falcon, while an influx of entries with the original cars brings the field up to 15. Turua driver AJ Lauder, just 18, leads the Gold Star Championship category in a Falcon.
The Formula Ford championship is hotting up with victories by Christchurch rookie James Munro drawing him closer to series leader Brendon Leitch from Invercargill.
The new-look national endurance championship kicks off on Saturday afternoon with a three-hour race featuring the exotic Ford GT – the contemporary version of the Le Mans-winning GT40 – driven by Deon Cooper and Harry Dodson.