The teams and drivers of the Autobacs Super GT Series may have been busy at work testing their cars at Okayama International Circuit this past week, but even by their own admission, they will admit that another runner on the circuit has gripped the attention of the racing world.
In between the morning and afternoon sessions on Wednesday, second-generation racer Juju Noda – who is just twelve, count it, twelve years old!!! – took her first laps in a 2012 Dallara Formula 3 car. It was impressive enough not only to capture the imagination of the Super GT drivers, but also that of motorsports fans around the world.
Juju Noda is the daughter of former Super GT and Formula 1 driver Hideki Noda, who is also a championship-winning team director and manager of his own driving academy.
In an interview with Forbes contributor Peter Lyon from June 2017, Noda commented: “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.”
“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.”
Last year, Juju was driving FIA Formula 4 cars in non-sanctioned track days, and this year, her incredible driver training programme accelerated to Formula 3, where she drove the Dallara F312 at Okayama for the first time.
It was one year ago, in an F4 car, that Juju recorded a best time of 1:32.8 around this very same circuit.
Putting that into perspective, the official FIA F4 Japanese Championship lap record at Okayama – set two years ago in the same spec vehicle by Shintaro Kawabata, a driver twice her age and already competing in Super GT – is a 1:33.769.
Last year, Juju and Hideki Noda were interviewed for NHK World’s Samurai Wheels programme, co-hosted by another F1/Super GT alumnus, Ukyo Katayama (team director at Goodsmile Racing with Team UKYO).
And her appeal is so powerful already, that in 2017, she starred in a Japanese television commercial to promote the upcoming release of Gran Turismo Sport:
“I want to win in Formula 1, and be the first girl to do it,” Juju says. She also has her sights set on racing in Formula E in the future as well.
Her official single-seater racing debut is projected for 2022, the year where she’ll turn 16 and qualify for a racing license from the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) – and by which point, she’ll have already had over five years’ experience in open-wheel cars.
It’s still so very early, too early to predict the future – but with her poise and potential already demonstrated at such an early age to the likes of Heikki Kovalainen, Jann Mardenborough, and João Paulo de Oliveira – in a just world, her dreams of becoming a Formula 1 Grand Prix winner are well and truly within reach.
Story via SUPERGTWORLD
Feature image by Tatsuya Endo