I probably look toward the junior categories of formula racing more than I do toward anything outside of Formula One. Reason being, we are seeing the stars of tomorrow jousting for their futures. It is always intriguing gauging who has ‘it’ and who doesn’t. Though years of watching motor racing, I have developed a knack for spotting talent. Where most see nothing more than a rich kid in an expensive car, I see an intellect. I see potential. I see a prodigy. Therefore, this article will be centred around young driver, whom I regard as being the next racing prodigy.
First and foremost, let us take a gander at Hideki Noda of Japan. Some people may or may not have remembered Hideki Noda’s racing career, but it did include four stints in Formula One as well as a few years within the IndyCar circles. Whilst Japan does produce some great driving talent, they generally have not fared too well in the sport of Formula One. Unfortunately for Noda, he was no exception. Noda made his Formula One debut at the 1994 European Grand Prix. He was some way behind team-mate Erik Comas in qualifying and retired after 10 laps, owing to a gearbox failure. He would contest just three more Grand Prix before moving to America to embark on a new form of racing. Whilst he did achieve modest success in Indy Lights, his tenure in America was rather short and his attempt to break through in the increasingly competitive American scene was halted before it could really begin.
Since returning to Japan, Noda raced sporadically within the Japanese motorsport scene and eventually set up a motorsport academy based in Okayama – the Noda Racing Academy. One member of the NRA (Noda Racing Academy) has attracted considerable interest; his daughter – Juju. At the age of twelve, she has already achieved the lap record at the Okayama International Circuit in a Formula 4 car. To put things into context, the average age of a Formula 4 driver is around fifteen to sixteen years old. Some of them have years of experience as well as a wealth of money behind them. This achievement is nothing short of amazing and is just one of the reasons why I hold her to high regard.
As well as her father’s support, Noda’s sponsors have a lot of faith in the twelve-year old and strived to get her into a Formula 3 car, even if it were only for a test day. Generally, Formula Three cars are meant for advanced drivers above the age of sixteen years old. Her performance at the Okayama International Circuit attracted a fair amount of attention, thanks in part to Briton Jann Mardenborough, who shared a video of her testing session. He made mention of the fact that despite being several years younger than even the youngest of Formula 3 competitors, she was performing to a very high standard.
Another benefit for Noda is down to gender. There are few female professional racing drivers in the world and most don’t tend to progress very far. Whether it would be down to lack of funding or talent or even both, I have always objected drivers progressing through the ranks of motorsport based purely off the funds they bring to their teams or through means other than the merit of their results. Whilst there is an increasing motion to find the next female Formula One driver, they needed to find a driver who had the driving prowess to excel in the sport. With Juju Noda, they have exactly that. This will prove to be greatly beneficial toward Noda as the increased attention as well as the willingness for sponsors to back her will help propel her toward her goal of being in Formula One.
I have been watching motorsport long enough to know young talent when I see it. Many focus primarily on statistics, which is understandable. However, one should primarily focus on the performances they put in on race day. Already armed with lap records, enthusiastic sponsors and a great mentor in her father, Juju Noda has everything she needs to be the next female Formula One driver. But more importantly, be the next big racing prodigy.