The validation of Jaguar TCS Racing’s investment in Nick Cassidy, who one of its key figures calls ‘an extremely technical racing driver’, was just as quick as expected, but in the ultra-competitive world of Formula E, it should not be overlooked.
Cassidy’s clinically executed victory at the second Diriyah E-Prix not only signified that justified choice to partner a Big Cat ever-present in the shape of Mitch Evans, but it also confirmed that the driver who could have won last year’s title in a green customer Jaguar, can get it across the line this year in a factory black and white one.
A lot at Jaguar has changed over the last four months, including the departure of its hands-on and talismanic technical chief Phil Charles. When The Race broke the news of his exit in November, it wasn’t just those he was leaving that were rocked, it was the whole paddock.
But look closer and you’ll see that actually, Jaguar has a deep strength in depth in most departments. One of those attuned to its ambitions from day one is the now general manager Gary Ekerold.
Coming from Envision, Cassidy had the benefit of not coming to a completely new racing car but Ekerold believes “it’s a testament to the people who have been through a lot over the last few months and taking him in with arms open. It’s a cultural thing that I’m really proud of and now we’re seeing the benefits of it.
“Nick wanted to be part of that manufacturer's environment because he’s an extremely technical racing driver, he enjoys understanding the technical aspects so he wanted an input to the development of the car.
Jaguar and its technical partner Fortescue WAE have got a lot of new infrastructure at an impressive new base in Kidlington, UK.
The Race witnessed how engaged and immersed Cassidy and Evans were in this new facility when it visited in November. Both drivers are technically adept, playing a strong part in the ongoing technical input and it was right up Cassidy’s street from the off.
“So often racing drivers are just viewed as the guys that do the stuff in an hour on the race track, and they can add so much value to teams from a technical perspective and from a leadership perspective,” adds Ekerold.
“We’re starting to see both our racing drivers, including Mitch [Evans]. Nick’s had a great day today, but let’s not forget what Mitch has delivered for this racing team for the last three or four years: absolutely first-class results.”
What is interesting about the Jaguar story in Formula E is that the early foundations, of which Ekerold, along with Evans, Craig Wilson (recently departed) and team principal James Barclay were key too, were built on a basis of a start-up.
“Remember we started as a brand new team, we purposefully didn’t come here and poach people from the rest of this paddock, we selected a group of talented, possibly inexperienced people, and we’ve grown them,” adds Ekerold.
“It's amazing what confidence does to people.”
This weekend wasn’t easy for Jaguar, some of the sessions were difficult, notably Evans’ qualifying where he was agog to learn he was seventh despite topping the times on his first run.
“We always knew that if we could get to the front and the strategy team could control the race, that was a pretty confident thing to give Nick,” explained Ekerold.
Cassidy’s race was supreme. It was a highly well-managed race between him and his side of the garage led by engineer Phil Ingram, someone with whom he has developed a calm and mutually beneficial connection.
During qualifying for Friday’s race there was an amusing aside when Ingram said: “You can go to off-set one for your delta.”
To which Cassidy replied “oh, I’d prefer to just listen to you. One less variable. Thanks man.!”
Classic Cassidy. As is his capacity to strategise and think ahead when the races become complicated. Add to that his propensity to be economical with external shows of over-celebration and hyperbole, and you’ve probably got an all-round package tailor-made for a manufacturer of Jaguar's sporting, corporate and professional ambitions.
“I think this moment is super important to celebrate because these races are just so hard to win in this championship,” said Cassidy.
“You never know when they’re going to come again, so I’m enjoying it right now. I’m aware that I’m due a bad day. I’ve had a really good run since Portland last year. So, I’ve been lucky but it’s really nice.”
Naturally humble he might be but he’s massively driven too, although he tends to show it in a different manner to team-mate and friend Evans, who joined the team in victory celebrations in the pitlane this evening.
But Cassidy knows that any thoughts of anything other than enjoying his first Jaguar win have to be suppressed.
He may have an 18-point advantage after three races, but he need only look to 12 months ago when Pascal Wehrlein left this UNESCO World Heritage site with what felt like his own personal treasure of a three-point lead over the nearest non-Porsche challenger. He ultimately ended up 80 points shy of champion Jake Dennis.
“I think we’ve really seen the field close up on efficiency and the powertrains,” Cassidy said.
“Ollie (Rowland in the Nissan) was pretty strong today when you look at it, especially how much he came back to us [at the end].
“I think he was quicker definitely the last half of the race. I think there are many guys now that, with the peloton-style race, that can win. And I’m talking like, many, like 16 guys. It’s going to be a different race to last year [in Sao Paulo], a tough one and anything can happen for sure.”
Anything can happen. But for Cassidy, only good things are happening right now, and for someone who has had an incredible run of six podiums, including three wins in the last eight races, there is a title favourite already starting to form in the first month of 2024.