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Teenager Juju Noda to Become the First Japanese Female Driver in Super Formula

After winning the 2023 season title in Italy's F2000 Formula Trophy, a Formula 3 circuit, Juju Noda embraces the challenge of being a new Super Formula driver.

Juju Noda is a 17-year-old high school girl turned race-car driver who grew up in Mimasaka City, Okayama Prefecture. In the racing world, she goes by her mononym, "Juju." She is the daughter of former Formula One racer Hideki Noda.

A Noda Racing driver, she has decided to enter the 2024 Japanese Super Formula Championship with her team, TGM Grand Prix. Juju's performance in the 2023 season earned her a spot in the competition. The nine-round championship, which gets underway March 8-10 at Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture, is Asia's most prestigious single-seater racing competition. 

This will mark the first time in history that a Japanese woman has competed in this racing circuit. What's more, Juju's debut in the  championship will make her the youngest driver ever to enter the series. She's on the path to achieving her dream of becoming the first Japanese female F1 driver.

Juju Noda
Juju Noda is set to compete in this season’s Super Formula Championship, Asia's premier single-seater racing circuit. (©juju.com)

Superb 2023 Season in Europe

In 2023, Juju won the fourth round of the Euroformula Open in France. In addition, she also delivered a stellar performance in  the Zinox F2000 Formula Trophy, a 14-round international Formula 3 competition in Italy. Sparked by her four race victories, she became the championship's first-ever female driver to capture an overall season title. 

Then, in the Super Formula Preseason and Rookie Test in December 2023, she impressed critics with her potential and ever-developing skills. Running 192 laps over three days, Juju achieved a best lap time that would have qualified her for the finals. 

Super Formula is one level below F1. However, many believe Juju could obtain the FIA Super License required for F1 in as little as two years. 

Kazuhiro Ikeda, representative of TGM, said, "Juju's performance in the test far exceeded our expectations. She has an amazing talent in the extraordinary sense of speed she has developed and has proved she belongs here." 

Juju Noda
Juju Noda (second from left) receives her award for winning the annual Zinox F2000 Formula Trophy in November 2023 in Misano Adriatico, Italy. (©juju.com)

In 2024, Juju is also expected to race in the Boss GP Series in Europe to acquire racing experience handling high-performance machines. Boss GP's official website describes itself as "the fastest racing series in Europe and one of the most spectacular series in the international motorsports world." 

In principle, individuals 18 or older can apply for a Japanese motorsport competition license. Applicants must also have a regular driver's license. Juju is now attending a driving school in Okayama Prefecture ahead of her 18th birthday on February 2. 

"Everything I'm learning goes against my instincts as a racer, so it was a bit confusing at first," she says with a smile.

Juju Noda
Juju Noda and Hideki Noda (right) share a passion for auto racing. (©juju.com)

Father-Daughter Team

As with her elder sister, Juju received a kids' kart from her father, Hideki, on her third birthday. She began karting seriously at 5, learning about the racing world. 

"From the time I was born, racing has always been close to my heart," reveals Juju. She reflects that, "Unlike other sports, whenever I lost in karting, I felt so frustrated. I hated losing. Training hard after a loss and bouncing back with a win would always make me happy." 

After his retirement, Hideki established the NODA Racing Academy. When he moved the academy to Okayama International Circuit, he moved his family, including Juju, to Mimasaka City. At the time, Juju was just 4 years old. 

Juju left karting at the age of 9, graduating to formula cars. At 14, she went to Denmark and competed in F4 in Europe for two years and then moved on to the W Series (a now-defunct single-seater racing championship for women) at 16.

Juju Noda
Juju Noda is taking lessons to obtain a driver's license, a requirement for a competition license, in Okayama Prefecture. (ⒸSANKEI).

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A Father's Impact

Regarding her father's influence, Juju says, "I respect him for being able to put his thoughts into action. He was also the first racer I thought was cool." 

Hideki's approach is not to teach drivers everything but to wait until they find the right answer on their own. 

"He's the best instructor and coach I could ask for," Juju says before adding, "He's been with me since I was a child, and it's because of him that I've been able to come this far." 

Juju also touches on the support of her family. 

"I worry a lot about the dangers of racing, but my family supports me," she tells me. 

Surprisingly, Hideki mentions, "I had no desire for her to follow the same path as me. It's her life, so I just want to see her do what she enjoys."

Grace Under Pressure

Last season, Juju drove in more than 30 European races throughout the year. With just her family team of five, she competed against some massive teams. 

"It was the first year for both the team and myself," Juju says of the experience. As she recalls, "We started out with no data, nothing. I never imagined I'd be standing on the podium after the third round or that I would win the fourth round [in June]. It was all a real confidence boost." 

The European circuit helped her develop as a racer. 

"With every race and training session," she says, "I could feel myself grow." 

In round 4 of the F2000 season in Rome, Juju was running in fifth place when the car in front of her crashed. Despite this, she maintained her composure. She vividly remembers the moment she asked her father over the driver's radio, "Am I in the lead?" 

Juju's grandfather passed away about a week before the race. 

"I felt as if he had supported me [during the race]," she tells me. "I'm so glad I worked so hard with everyone and didn't give up." 

Speaking about what makes her excel as a driver, Juju muses, "I think my mentality is stronger than that of other drivers. As a child, I learned how to drive fast cars with my body, not my brain."

Juju Noda
Juju Noda drives an open-wheel formula racing car in January 2024. (©juju.com)

For Juju Noda, Hard Work Pays Off

Hideki comments, "She might have a good sense for driving, but it's because she works so hard."

Juju's father adds, "She understands the limits of driving a car [and] she feels it with her body. That's how she can drive so fast. When she drives, she drives with her everyday calm and relaxed mindset." 

Sharing her thoughts about the Japanese Super Formula Championship, Juju says, "We didn't think it would happen this soon. It's such a high-level series and attracts the best drivers from Japan and abroad." Her goal, she says, "is to learn and improve with each race and grow step by step. I just want to do my best and have fun." 

As a woman, racing has given Juju much to think about. 

"My ultimate goal is to become an F1 driver," she declares enthusiastically. "Regulations and car construction are based on male standards. But I hope to become a driver who can change those standards as I pursue my dream."

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(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Motohiro Wada, The Sankei Shimbun

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