In many ways, Juju Noda’s career really only starts now. That might sound strange for a driver that has just finished a Danish Formula 4 campaign. Yet just like the years of testing in Japan, the 2020 season was always seen as an overture for the daughter of former F1 driver Hideki Noda.
By Jeroen Demmendaal
NODA Racing, the team built around the young Japanese driver, always regarded 2020 (in true Gran Turismo tradition) as a prologue. The Denmark adventure was meant to warm up driver, car and crew, to get the team to gel together, clear out any kinks (the tire regulation-related disqualification at Jyllands-Ringen, anyone?) and become a real unit.
Which makes today’s announcement all the more interesting. This year Juju Noda will compete in the SCCA-sanctioned F4 United States Championship, which will be held over eighteen races at six different venues. There is also a new sponsor in the form of ROKiT – given the brand’s key markets, don’t be surprised if that deal also influenced the decision to go Stateside. The ROKiT support comes in addition to the team’s existing Japanese corporate backers, clothing brand Miki House and loyalty program company T-Point.
Without a doubt, going to the US presents Juju & Co with a new set of challenges. A new country, a much bigger competitor set (fields of 30 cars are not unusual in US F4) and a range of new and exciting circuits. From the glowing hills of Laguna Seca in California, Mid-Ohio and Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama to the high-speed corners of Brainerd Raceway in Minnesota, Juju and her team will face a test of versatility at each of the six rounds in the championship.
But while she will face a steep learning curve on tracks she has never seen before, that didn’t stop her in Denmark as she immediately got used to racking up poles, podiums and wins. Expecting her to do the same in the States is probably unfair, but three races per weekend will give her plenty of time to get up to speed. And there is no better way to hone your skills than by competing in a field packed with other young chargers.
Plus, NODA Racing and Juju aren’t taking on US F4 by themselves. They have teamed up with Jay Howard Driver Development (JHDD), one of the powerhouses of American feeder series racing. Just ask reigning USF2000 champion Christian Rasmussen, who won seventeen races and a championship in the last three years with the team that he now regards as a second family.
The wealth of experience inside JHDD means that bags of track and car data await Juju whenever she straps into her Honda-powered race car. She won’t have to start from scratch, but is likely to have a decent base set-up to work from at every track. That support alone will be a huge help as she gets to grips with her new proving grounds during 2021. Another upside: she will have multiple JHDD teammates to compare notes with (Matt Christensen and Seth Foley have already been confirmed), further strengthening the data side of things.
Some may wonder why NODA Racing and Juju choose to cross the Atlantic for the next stage of their journey, but talk to those involved and you realise that this is the next step in a carefully laid out plan. Keep in mind: she turns only 15 in February. By the end of this year, she will still be below the legal driving age in the US and yet have already two seasons of F4 under her belt.
Without a doubt, NODA Racing will start looking at continental Europe sooner rather than later. But for now, Juju and her team are making sure to take in a wide range of different experiences. They know Japan inside out, they have had a first taste of Europe and are now embarking on the Land of Opportunity. Amidst the ongoing discussions about who will be the next female driver in Formula 1, keep a close eye on this teenager from Japan – because she might just be it.