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Juju Noda continues her development in SuperFormula at Autopolis

Juju Noda continued her development year in Japan's premier single seater series Super Formula with a challenging second round at Autopolis, after a technical issue in practice translated into a lack of valuable mileage ahead of qualifying.

Juju Noda, TGM Grand Prix, Super Formula 2024, Autopolis
Photo credits: Noda Racing

Juju Noda continued her development year in Japan's premier single seater series Super Formula with a challenging second round at Autopolis, after the 18-year-old driver enjoyed a highly encouraging debut in March at Suzuka.

On her debut in one of the world's most competitive formula championships and in one of the fastest cars, Noda bounced back from a difficult qualifying and completed her first ever race with a promising 17th place, running on consistent laps and matching drivers just ahead - becoming the youngest driver ever to compete in the series in the process.

Two months later, Super Formula returned to action for its second round at Autopolis, a 19-corner, 4.673 km-long twisty circuit that tested drivers and machines. Noda, who had exceeded expectations at Suzuka, would be tackling a circuit where she had little experience on - therefore practice on Friday would be crucial to learn the track and continue her familiarization with the Dallara SF23.

Unfortunately, a fuel system issue mid-way through free practice 1 meant that Juju's car stopped on track and brought out a red flag; the technical problem left the young racer with a severe lack of mileage in practice, and she finished eight seconds adrift - and, importantly, with little data to set up the car ahead of qualifying.

Noda contested the Q1 A group session and, despite the less than ideal circumstances, she made significant improvements, closing the gap to the leaders despite a mistake into the final corner: her 1:30.373 was now 2.9 seconds off the pace setter – which put the TGM Grand Prix driver 19th on the starting grid for Saturday's race.

As she logged more laps, Juju was indeed getting closer to the pack: in the warm up session preceding the race, she was 17th fastest and continued to chase every improvement. The 41-lap race in the afternoon was certainly a challenging one for Juju, although she battled through and brought home valuable learnings.

At lights out, Red Bull junior Ayumu Iwasa lost out to Tadasuke Makino and Naoki Yamamoto - with the former immediately opening a small gap in the lead over the first lap. Juju had a strong start, gained a position into turn 1, but was shuffled down to P21 at the end of lap 1, although she could initially keep up with the cars ahead.

Positions settled on the very technical and twisty track; Iwasa chased Yamamoto as he tried to make up for his difficult start, as the two ran five seconds down the road to race leader Makino. Juju continued to improve her personal best laps - and was running consistent laps in the 1m34, on par with the two cars ahead.

The first pit stops started on lap 11, when Naoki Yamamoto decided to defend himself from Iwasa by pitting earlier. Juju started to climb the order as the round of pit stops commenced; she ran as high as 17th and was initially faster than Kotaka and Miyake, who had already pitted. She got ahead of Iori Kimura on lap 22 and continued to extend her first stint until she eventually pitted on lap 24 - and rejoined in P20, as Ren Sato had meanwhile retired with a technical issue.

Ahead, Makino also pitted on lap 24 and retained the lead from Yamamoto and Iwasa - who continued to battle for second. On new tyres, Juju clocked her first laps in the 1m33 bracket and then went below the 1:33 mark, with a very encouraging 1:32.645 on lap 28; she then settled in her rhythm, but the very late pit stop had lost her around 30 seconds to Kotaka.

In the final stages of the race, though, Juju couldn't quite get the most out of the fresh tyres due to blue flags, as she had gone one lap down and spent the final laps focusing on making way for the traffic of the leaders.

Ayumu Iwasa meanwhile made a pass stick on Yamamoto and moved up to second - and was then followed by Sho Tsuboi, who made a brilliant pass on the #64 machine on lap 35 to grab a spot in the top three. Makino had stretched his leg once again and could cross the finish line 5.5 seconds ahead of Iwasa and Tsuboi, collecting his first ever win in Super Formula.

Juju Noda completed the race in P20, making good improvements in each session. The lack of track time in practice, though, had significantly influenced the entire weekend; a drastic change in setup ahead of the race – caused by the missed long run simulations in practice was yet another contributing factor to the struggle for pace in the race compared to the season opener.

While she couldn't quite show her full potential at Autopolis, Juju continued her development season and will be applying the new learnings in the remainder of the season, as she now switches her focus towards the third round at Sportsland Sugo, on 21–23 June.

Juju Noda, TGM Grand Prix, Super Formula 2024, Autopolis
Photo credits: Noda Racing



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