Juju Noda leads the Rookie class standings in Euroformula Open, having claimed her second class win of the season and her best finish so far with sixth in race 3 at Spa Francorchamps
Juju Noda scored her best result of the season so far in Euroformula Open and took her second win among the rookies at Spa Francorchamps, taking the point lead of that class after the second round of the season at the challenging circuit in the Belgian Ardennes.
The Japanese driver has made the step up to Euroformula Open, after contesting the all-female championship W Series in 2022, where she finished as the top rookie. Moving from the Formula Regional machinery to the Dallara 320 Euroformula – a very propaedeutic car which has a proven record of preparing drivers for the next steps in FIA F3 and FIA F2 – Noda has been carrying out a testing programme with her own Noda Racing team, which also runs her #10 car during the season. Alongside her Euroformula campaign, Noda also races the same Dallara machine in the Drexler Cup – an open single-seater format where she had recent success with race wins and several podiums. At the Euroformula season opener at Portimao, Noda went up against the Motopark team, which runs over half the cars on the grid and has won three of the last four championships. The 17 year old driver came home with three seventh place finishes – with only BVM Racing’s Francesco Simonazzi able to score a podium not in a Motopark entry. Noda made further steps ahead at Spa Francorchamps, second round of the Euroformula season and one of most popular race tracks among drivers and fans alike. Juju was fifth fastest in the second practice session, for the first time breaking in the top five and, importantly, showing good race pace, eight tenths adrift pace setter Noel Leon. Qualifying proved to be more challenging and the Japanese racer couldn’t do better than eighth, as Noel Leon secured pole position ahead of Cian Shields (Motorpark) and Francesco Simonazzi.
At lights out for the first of the three races of the weekend, Leon had a good getaway but left way too much room on the inside – and Simonazzi seized the opportunity to grab the lead at La Source. The Italian, though, had to defend his position on the Kemmel straight, when after a 4-wide battle with Shields, Leon and Aron, Shields managed to snatch the first place. Simonazzi, though, fought back and re-claimed the lead on the following lap; the top three continued to swap places and Motopark teammates Shields and Noel eventually checked out. With a very strong start, Juju Noda gained two places and was already up to sixth at the end of the first lap. While she initially battled with Jakob Bergmeister for fifth, Noda dropped behind Mason. The Briton was making up ground, but Noda followed him: the Japanese driver eventually got by Bergmeister for sixth – first among the rookies – and then defended well, as drivers reached the half-way mark of the race. Simonazzi lost third to Aron as well, while Leon overtook Shields for the lead – in what shaped up to be a Motopark 1-2-3. Leon came under pressure from Shields in the final laps – with also Aron closing in. The Mexican, though, never lost his cool and took a back to back victory in Euroformula. Juju Noda and Jakob Bergmeister traded positions throughout the second half of the race; Bergmeister had made a move stick on the penultimate lap, but Noda snatched back P6 on the very final lap, claiming her best finish of the season - and what looked like her second victory in the rookies' class. A post-race penalty demoted Noda back to seventh, as she had missed the final chicane on the final lap.
With sixth in race 1, Jakob Bergmeister had also secured the reverse grid pole position for Sunday's morning race 2, alongside Francesco Simonazzi. From seventh place, Juju Noda had some recovery to do to challenge again for the rookies' win.
A tricky start for Bergmeister, though, meant that Simonazzi took the lead at La Source just like on Saturday's first race. Noda held position and battled with the Motopark squad over the first laps, as her main rival for the rookies' class Bergmeister had dropped to sixth.
Bryce Aron took the lead on lap 3 - but the BVM Racing's Simonazzi switched back one lap later at Les Combes with a pass around the outside. Two time race winner Noel Leon also joined the leading duo and the first spot exchanged hands once again on lap 5, with Aron once again overtaking Simonazzi - who then lost second to Leon as well.
The battles for the runner up spot allowed Aron to pull away; Leon did close the gap in the final 5 laps though, and the Motopark teammates battled hard in a hectic final lap, but Aron held on and took his first Euroformula win ahead of Leon, Simonazzi, Schields and Mason.
Juju Noda had a more lonely race 2, running in seventh place throughout the race, around 5 seconds behind Bergmeister. The Japanese driver eventually didn't quite have the pace to challenge the German for the rookies class' win in race 2 and scored her fifth consecutive P7 of the season - but aimed to top that in the final race of the weekend.
Rookie driver and reigning Chinese F4 champion Gerrard Xie (Crypto Tower Racing Team) lined up alongside Bryce Aron on the front row of the grid for race 3 on Sunday afternoon. Xie stalled on the grid and was collected by both Jakob Bergmeister and Paolo Brajnik; at the same time, Noel Leon also had a slow start and was just avoided by Juju Noda, who on the other hand had a brilliant getaway from eighth and was already up to fifth at the first hairpin. The big accident on the start-finish line, though, understandably brought out the red flag and drivers - led by Josh Mason, Bryce Aron and Francesco Simonazzi. After the marshals had cleared the track, the race resumed behind the safety car. Mason held the lead at the green flag - but the usual slipstreaming resumed on the Kemmel straight, as Shields moved up to second when Aron went deep into Les Combes. Leon was making up positions and overtook Noda for fifth, with the top six covered by barely two seconds. Shields took the lead with a spectacular move around the outside of Les Combes on the following lap, while Leon made a move stick at Blanchimont on Motopark teammate Aron. Noda also remained within the group of front runners, fighting for the top positions. While drivers battled for the runner up spot, Cian Shields tried to pull away - but Simonazzi, once up into second, progressively reduced the gap to the front. With four laps to go, Simonazzi had to cut through the chicane at Les Combes, allowing past Noel Leon. The Italian then made another mistake at Pouhon and got stuck in the gravel, requiring the intervention of the safety car. The red flag was eventually deployed - bringing the race result back to the previous lap: Cian Shields therefore scored his first win of the season, ahead of Simonazzi - who retained second - and championship leader Noel Leon. Juju Noda had slightly drifted behind the Motopark quartet but her first place in the rookies' class was never under threat. Sixth across the finish line, Noda finally topped her best finish of the season and secured her second win among the rookies this year. The driver of the #10 Noda Racing Dallara now leads the rookie standings, 12 points ahead of Jakob Bergmeister. She sits seventh in the overall championship standings. Euroformula's next round will be at one of the most popular race meetings of the championship - Hungaroring, on 17-18 June. Noda had one of her strongest races in W Series at the Hungarian tricky circuit, so we might expect more improvements at the wheel of the Dallara 320 from the Japanese driver.