Former Grand Prix driver Hideki Noda celebrates his 41st birthday today!
Born in Osaka, Noda’s motorsport career began on the usual rung of karts, where he achieved multiple national titles in the 1980s. After a season of Japanese F3, Hideki moved to Europe and competed in the British Vauxhall Lotus Championship, taking a win at Donington among his three podiums of the season en route to fifth overall.
Hideki graduated to British F3 in 1990, and became the first Japanese driver to win an F3 race outside his homeland when he won at Silverstone that year. Hideki then moved to F3000, where he stayed for three years and peaked with some impressive results in his final season where he drove for Forti.
With the Larrousse F1 team in dire financial straits by the end of the 1994 season, Hideki was drafted in as the team’s latest pay driver alongside its regular, Érik Comas, at that season’s European GP in Jerez.
Well aware that little was expected of him in the uncompetitive and underfinanced car, Hideki surprised many by not only making it onto the 26-car grid, but doing so within a second of his more established team-mate.
In the race, Noda stalled off the line and toured around at the back of the field for 10 laps before he was slowed with a gearbox problem. Trying to limp back to the pits, he inadvertently baulked Rubens Barrichello and Nigel Mansell as the duo came up to lap him, and Mansell ran into the back of him, damaging his front wing.
The next round at Suzuka saw Hideki qualify impressively, with local knowledge helping him to a time just 0.013s slower than Comas. Sadly, he would retire on the opening lap with a fuel pump failure.
His final appearance at Australia saw him comfortably out-qualify his new team-mate, Jean-Denis Délétraz, in what would be the final race outing for the Larrousse team. He would retire after 18 laps with an oil leak.
That proved to be Hideki’s last F1 outing, for although he had paid a deposit to secure a seat with Simtek the following season, the Kobe earthquake saw his sponsorship disappear and the Simtek team folded after just four rounds.
Noda ventured to the United States in 1996 and competed in the Indy Lights series for two seasons. While usually a midfield runner, he peaked with a skilful win in the wet at Portland to become the first and (so far) only Japanese driver to win a CART-sanctioned event.
Noda returned to Japan and competed in Formula Nippon and the Japanese GT series for several seasons. He is also a regular Le Mans 24 Hours competitor.
[Image via F1i.com]