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Why Juju Noda has quit Euroformula Open mid-season

Japanese racing prodigy Juju Noda caused a splash when she won her first Euroformula Open race at Paul Ricard. That was followed by the news of her withdrawal from the series. So what's behind the sudden change of plan?

The 17-year-old stepped up to Euroformula with her family-run Noda Racing squad for 2023 after a season in the now-defunct W Series, combining that with a programme in the Italian F2000 Trophy and Drexler Cup series running with the same Dallara 320 car.

She scored her first podium at the third round of the season at the Hungaroring in June, before scoring her first victory in the opening race of the following round at Paul Ricard in late July.

However, on the eve of last weekend's Red Bull Ring round, Noda's father Hideki, who raced in Formula 1, Formula Nippon and IndyCar, announced the team's sudden withdrawal from the series.

One of the main topics surrounding Noda's participation in Euroformula Open has been the existence of a separate minimum weight for minimum drivers.

 

Immediately prior to the opening race at Portimao in April, organiser GT Sport issued a technical bulletin handing Noda a 20kg advantage by fixing the minimum weight for female drivers at 560kg, instead of the usual 580kg. This was increased to 566kg/586kg for the following round at Spa.

However, it is said this rule was not introduced at the behest of Noda Racing and that the team had no prior consultation with the organisers about it.

For the Paul Ricard weekend, the minimum weight for female drivers was upped by 15kg, and then for the most recent round at the Red Bull Ring, it was decided to go back to a unified minimum weight of 586kg for both genders. Noda's withdrawal followed this latest change.

When contacted by Motorsport.com's Japanese edition to establish whether the abolition of a weight advantage was the main reason for Noda's exit, a team representative said: "It's not zero, but it wasn't that big a problem in itself."

It seems therefore that there was a bigger "problem" for Noda than just the weight of the car that had a major bearing on the team's decision to exit the series. While the representative declined to go into details, it seems there were other demands made by the series that Noda Racing was unable to agree to.

In addition to the minimum weight rule, there is talk that another significant change that was made to the technical regulations for Noda's benefit at the start of the season that may have been suddenly reversed.

 

Hideki Noda published a statement on his Facebook page last Thursday that alluded to some of the reasons for the decision.

It read: "Since our overwhelming defeat in the opening round [at Portimao], the team and all our supporters have been working hard to improve the potential of the car. Consequently the results improved dramatically and Juju was able to win a race with her wonderful driving.

"However, as she has gotten faster and her results have improved, we've been faced with many unreasonable obstacles. Paul Ricard, where she won, was no exception to this.

"Nevertheless, we did not give up and overcame it, but this time [at the Red Bull Ring], as expected, we decided that it was physically impossible to respond and compete in such a short period of time.

"If we had recklessly decided to enter [the Red Bull Ring round], we would have had to abandon the Zinox series [Italian F2000 Trophy], which we are currently leading. It would also mean betraying one of our sponsors that is supporting us."

Instead of racing at the Red Bull Ring, Noda competed in the Drexler Cup round at Brno that was being held on the same weekend, taking a double victory. There, she also had the chance to sample a Formula Renault 3.5 car, the most powerful machine she has driven in her career to date.

 

Noda has two rounds left of her campaign in the Italian F2000 Trophy at Mugello and Misano, and will aim to defend her narrow points lead over Hungarian racer Benjamin Berta. But her plans beyond that are unclear.

The statement posted by her father concluded by saying: "We'll start again with a new step forward."

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