Just days after announcing she would compete in Danish F4 in 2020, a lot of people referred back to an article calling Juju Noda the new Max Verstappen. Only 14, and already so fast. Noda did not let that faze her however. “I didn’t even know that people were saying such nice things about me. I was happy to race in Europe and I was just concentrating on what I have to do.” Even so, the whole world was watching to see how the girl they deemed to be the next big female driver would fare in her first year in European racing. She lived up to the expectations in her first race weekend in 2020, by taking pole position and winning the first race of the season.
Let’s go back to how it all started. The Noda family is not new to racing. Father Hideki Noda is an ex-F1 driver, having raced in three Grands Prix in 1994. He’s done some racing in both the United States and Japan, and is a 24 Hours of Le Mans finisher. Juju Noda has clearly inherited these racing genes. Like all racing drivers, Juju started her racing career with a first trip to a karting track. Multiple victories in go-karts followed. What is unique about her is how fast she made the step up to single seater cars. Noda had already driven a Formula 3 car at 11 years old. When she was 12, she beat the Okoyama International Circuit F4 lap record. However, she had to wait until her 14th birthday to start racing in Europe, so when she turned 14 in February, it was time to move to Europe to start her single seater race career. COVID-19 unfortunately delayed the start of that career even further because of multiple cancelled races and the season starting a month later than intended. “The circumstances were difficult. There were so many times that the team and I were ready to race and then the races were cancelled again and again.”
In the weekend of 19-21 June, racing finally went underway. Noda took pole position at the first round of the Danish F4 championship and continued to win the very first race of the season. “I wasn’t expecting such a good result. It was just perfect. In my first ever race in Europe I got pole position and the fastest lap and I won the race. What else can you ask for?” After a disqualification in the second race due to a tyre issue, she finished just outside the podium in fourth in the last race of the first round. Something Noda had to adapt to quickly was overtaking. In Japan she was used to starting at the front of the pack and driving away. Fortunately, she is a quick learner, and with some advice from her father it didn’t take too long to pick up that skill.
That win in the first race of the season ended up being Noda’s only win this year, but round two saw her achieve another pole position and two podiums. Unfortunately, the season wasn’t all fun and good results, with the third, and ultimately last, race weekend ending in disaster for the girl from Japan. She qualified on pole once again, but was spun around by rival Benjamin Frislund, due to which she finished the race in P10. Another spin in the second race resulted in a P7 finish and a crash with Dane William Wulf resulted in a DNF for both drivers involved in the last race of the weekend. When asked about these incidents, Noda wondered if she was targeted specifically, perhaps for the fact that she is a 14-year-old girl from Japan.
“I was driving as usual but ever since I won the very first race they really changed their attitudes towards me. I had to avoid incidents with people trying to hit me.”
When asked if she felt that same attitude off-track, Noda told us: “I don’t know how they thought about us. When I won the first race, nobody in the paddock, other than my own team, congratulated me. When somebody hit me from behind, nobody came to apologize. I didn’t feel comfortable or welcome there.” Nevertheless, she learned from that last weekend. Noda said she had to improve on avoiding those accidents.
Race weekend three at Ring Djursland ended up being the last Danish F4 round of the year. Round four at Padborg Park ended up being cancelled at the very last minute, just like the season finale at Jyllandsringen. In the end, Juju Noda finished the championship in 6th. All in all, it was good year of racing. “I am really happy with my first season in Europe. I could see that my speed is competitive and I built up my experience and confidence. The Noda Racing team was relatively small, but they produced three pole positions, a race win, and two other podiums.”
Team Noda is working on finding a series to race in in 2021. “It seems like there are some options. My father is working on it. My wish is to race under just pure racing circumstances with no politics involved.”
All image credits go to Noda Racing
-Irene van der Sanden