Youngest female racing driver in Japan, she is world’s first primary school student to drive an FIA-sanctioned Formula 4 race car at race speed

Eleven-year-old Juju Noda is a racing rarity. A prodigy. She is the world’s first primary school student to drive an FIA-sanctioned Formula 4 race car at race speed. And break lap records. She also just happens to be the youngest racing driver in Japan to have signed a professional racer contract with a sponsor. But Juju (pronounced ‘joo-joo’) cannot compete in official races until she turns 16-years-old.

Local race commentators are calling her talent exceptional with one motorsport writer saying she is a ‘once in a generation’ racer. Her goal? What else? Formula 1. “I want to win in Formula 1, and be the first girl to do it,” Juju says with no hesitation.

Under the instruction of her father, ex-F1 and ex-Indycar racer, Hideki Noda, and with Japanese sponsor, MikiHouse, a children clothing manufacturer, Juju might just get there. She proved her pace recently by smashing a Formula 4 lap record at the Okayama International Circuit with a time of 1 minute 32.8 seconds in the F4 Under 17 category (U17). That time was nearly one second quicker than the previous best time.

So what’s Juju’s secret? Her father explained that she is a star pupil at his Noda Racing Academy and that he makes time to focus on her potential. “I teach her the finer points of racing, but she just has so much raw, natural talent. Dare I say, much more than I ever did,” smiles Noda. “She has the ability to feel the limits of her race car, and the adhesion limits of the tyres. That’s critical and it’s not something you can teach someone. She was born with it. When Juju feels that she’s on the limit, she will back off but still stay focused and relaxed and fast.”

When she brakes heavily from 240 km/h at the end of Okayama’s main straight and turns in, her head lurches forward under the enormous braking energy and her sub-30 kg body experiences upwards of 4Gs (four times her body weight). But whereas high school girls in the past have cried for not having the strength and stamina to turn the steering wheel at speed, Juju just takes it all in her stride and goes back for more. After all, she’s been piloting go-karts since she was three, and more recently, winning virtually every racing kart event she entered. Her tiny frame just seems used to it. When she was offered a ride in an F4 car, she did not balk.

In a recent unofficial Formula 4 U17 race, she beat two other teenagers older than her. But that’s just the beginning. Her father’s goal is to get her into a quicker Formula 3 race car before the end of 2017. Apparently, at eleven, she already needs a higher level of training.

“Now that she has mastered her F4 car and holds the lap record at Okayama, it is time for her to step up to Formula 3,” says Juju’s mother, Masae Noda. “But I think she will have to really start focusing on more strenuous training because the F3 car requires more strength and stamina due to the higher speeds and G-forces. At the moment, as an F3 pilot, she does not really do that much physical training at all.”

She cannot ignore the spectacular career of 18-year-old Canadian racer Lance Stroll, F1 driver for the Williams F1 Team and the youngest pilot to stand on the podium, a goal he achieved on June 25 at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Stroll cut his teeth on go-karts, then won F4 and F3 championships before graduating to his current F1 seat. That is an almost identical path that Juju would want to follow.

In trying to emulate that feat, Juju will start practicing in an F3 car this year with plans to start racing officially when she turns sixteen. But she will have to start racing overseas where drivers can compete from age sixteen. At home, the age limit is eighteen. And if she does well early on, then the racing authorities back in Japan could be persuaded to give her a competition license two years ahead of time.

Then once she turns eighteen, she will have to procure a ‘super license’ to be able to enter F1. That’s if she can find a seat. The competition for seats in F1 cars is fierce, and raw talent and good technique are only the first pre-requisites. She will need her current sponsor MikiHouse to continue backing her if not one or two more sponsors.

Of the five women to have ever competed in F1, Juju is aware of Lella Lombardi who raced in the mid-70s and is the only woman to score championship points. But for Juju, that’s not enough. She doesn’t merely want to be the first Japanese woman to compete in F1. She wants to be the first-ever female winner. Even with her tremendous natural talent, dad’s instruction and a willing sponsor, her journey will be tough. But as her father always says, “Even if you lose, never, never give up.” That’s Juju’s life motto.

Leave you comment

Add Comment