Suzuka Super Formula: Yamamoto snatches title from Cassidy
Naoki Yamamoto secured his second Super Formula championship title after defeating Nick Cassidy in a head-to-head duel in the final race of the year at Suzuka.
Yamamoto closed to within four points of Cassidy after securing pole position on Saturday, and opting for soft tyres for his opening stint, the Mugen driver drove away from the field in the opening part of the 43-lap race.
He had already put three seconds of daylight between himself and nearest rival Kenta Yamashita after five laps, and doubled that advantage over the course of the next five laps.
Yamamoto pitted to switch to medium tyres on lap 20, at which point Cassidy assumed the lead as the highest-placed driver to start on the harder compound rubber.
The Kiwi held the lead until his own stop on lap 29, rejoining 7.5s behind Yamamoto but quickly closing down his rival, who retook the lead on lap 33 as the last of the medium-tyre starters came in to stop.
With five laps left, Yamamoto's lead was down to 2.8s, and Cassidy continued to close in - beginning the final lap just 0.8s adrift after setting a personal best lap on lap 41.
But Yamamoto had just enough pace in reserve to hang on for the win by 0.654s, beating Cassidy by one point and ending a five-year Super Formula title drought for Honda in the process.
Ryo Hirakawa (Impul) opted for the same strategy as Cassidy, and most likely would have taken the final spot on the podium without a right-rear puncture that speared him off into the barriers at Turn 1.
That promoted Cassidy's Kondo Racing teammate Yamashita to third, 27s down on the winner and only just ahead of a charging Yuji Kunimoto (Inging).
Kazuki Nakajima (TOM'S) was fifth after succumbing to Kunimoto in the closing stages, followed by Koudai Tsukakoshi (Real Racing) and Nobuharu Matsushita (Dandelion).
Yuhi Sekiguchi (Impul) recovered from his lowly grid slot of 17th to take the final point in eighth.
Hiroaki Ishiura (Inging) began the race level on points with Yamamoto, but starting 11th he endured a difficult race, ending up in the same position and finishing a distant third in the points.
Kamui Kobayashi (KCMG) faded to 13th after a dismal opening stint on mediums, while James Rossiter (TOM'S) lost any chance of points when he stopped out on-track shortly after his stop.
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