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Juju Noda exceeds expectations in Super Formula race debut

Having bounced back from a challenging start of her weekend, Juju Noda exceeded expectations and completed her first ever race in Japan's premier single seater championship with a promising 17th place, running on consistent laps and becoming the youngest driver in the series.

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

Juju Noda bounced back from a challenging qualifying and completed her first ever race in Japan's premier single seater championship with a promising 17th place, running on consistent laps and matching drivers just ahead. Noda, 18, is the only woman in the championship and became the youngest driver ever to compete in Super Formula.

Noda, daughter of former F1 and Indycar driver Hideki, joined TGM Grand Prix for her first full-season at the wheel of the massively quick Dallara SF23 - which is the second fastest formula car in the world on lap times thanks to its high downforce. Nevertheless, Juju performed well in pre-season testing, despite her lack of experience of high-downforce single seaters.

Juju is currently contesting her first racing season on home soil, having moved to Europe aged 14 to make her competitive debut in Formula 4, before she was selected for the 2022 W Series championship in Formula Regional machinery. In 2023, she made headlines in the Euroformula Open series, where she won a race at Paul Ricard - alongside titles in the Zinox F2000 Trophy and was runner up in Drexler-Automotive Formula Cup, always in a Dallara 320.

Her only experience of a bigger car was at the wheel of a Formula Renault 3.5 in the BOSS GP series - which meant she would have to build her experience and confidence with limited testing of the Super Formula machine ahead of her official race debut at Suzuka International Circuit.

While pre-season testing proved to be very productive, the opening round of the 2024 made for a hectic weekend full of learning opportunities and challenges for the young Japanese driver. Rain and mixed conditions complicated the matter in free practice, and Juju was only able to get half a day of dry running to get up to speed - which led to a disappointing session and a bigger gap than expected to close.

The difficulties continued into qualifying, where a miscommunication with the team resulted in Juju being unable to complete the second push lap. Her 1:40.699 was therefore over 4 seconds off the benchmark in Q1 and she couldn't progress to Q2. It was a rough start to her campaign - but Juju's determination allowed the TGM Grand Prix driver to turn her weekend around: in the second practice, Noda had already significantly reduced the gap and was ready to tackle her first start in one of the most competitive formula series in the world.

"It's truly an unknown world for me from here", Juju commented, as a race simulation originally planned in pre-season testing was cut short by wet weather and therefore she found herself running for the first time on long stint as well as on cold tyres after a pit stop.

From 19th on the grid, Juju had a stellar start and had already overtaken three cars - before she went deep into turn 1 and slid through the gravel on cold front tyres. Albeit from the back of the pack, she was able to rejoin and started to settle in her own rhythm.

A big accident on the second lap involving Yuji Kunimoto and Kazuto Kotaka brought out the safety car and allowed Juju to catch back with the rest of the field.

The race was back underway on lap 6, with Noda chasing Theo Pourchaire - who had dropped to 17th - and Ukyo Sasahara. Juju's pace wasn't far off the cars ahead and she set her personal best up until that point in 1:41.836 on lap 7, then started to gain a few tenths to Sasahara - whom she would pass on lap 10, when the latter pitted. The pit stop cycle had in fact started and the TGM Grand Prix driver moved up the ranks in the following laps by extending her stint.

On lap 11 she was marginally faster than Pourchaire, now 3 seconds up the road. Having run as high as tenth, Juju pitted on lap 15 for new tyres and would rejoin in P19, but soon picked up one position on Pourchaire when the Frenchman made a mistake on cold tyres and had a trip to the gravel. Noda significantly improved her best time on lap 18, with a competitive 1:40.895 on the new tyre, and now had a 5 second to close to catch Toshiki Oyu ahead.

The gap went down to just over 2 seconds, but Juju then started to struggle in the very closing stages of the race. Nevertheless, Noda kept Pourchaire at bay and gained a further position when Kamui Kobayashi had a technical issue and had to pit with 3 laps to go.

With a very solid performance, Juju Noda had an exciting debut in one of the world's top championships and crossed the finish line in P17, ahead of reigning FIA F2 champion Theo Pourchaire and former F1 racer and current WEC driver Kamui Kobayashi.

"It was my first race and there was a lot to learn, so I was first aiming to finish, but I was able to clear that goal and even more than that", Noda said post-race. "I was able to run at the same pace as everyone around me, so I had a better race than I expected.”

"It's still a big challenge for me, but now that I've gotten through the toughest part of the opening race, I think things will get a little easier after that.''

Tomoki Nojiri took victory from Kenta Yamashita and Naoki Yamamoto.

Having bounced back from a challenging start of her weekend, Juju Noda exceeded expectations and became the first ever Japanese woman - and the youngest driver - to complete a Super Formula race.

The second round of Japanese Super Formula is scheduled for 17-19 May at Autopolis.



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