The Formula Regional European Championship's weekend in Spielberg produced a dramatic return to action, in which Joshua Dufek got to play a leading role.
Having starred in several rounds prior to the obligatory summer interval, the Van Amersfoort Racing driver finally saw his name up in lights with a brace of podium finishes and, more importantly, his first wins in the Rookie Class, which move him firmly into second place in the standings, and only six points behind, with two rounds remaining.
With the summer break out of the way, Josh was determined to roar back into action, and a trip to the Red Bull Ring — a happy hunting ground in the past — provided the perfect stage. Keeping his powder dry through some horrendous pre-event conditions, the Swiss resident fired his first warning with tenth place in official testing and then built on that performance with sixth place in his qualifying group as the rain took a momentary hiatus.
Promoted into the top ten grid positions ahead of the opening race, any further ascent was put on hold by another cinematic twist in the weather, as a heavy downpour immediately prior to the start forced all cars onto grooved tyres and into a line astern getaway behind the safety car. When the conditions proved too tricky for those at the back, the red flag was shown to allow for the recovery of stranded cars, adding to the delay. Once underway again, however, Josh began eyeing up places and, through a combination of passing moves and others pitting for slicks, was into fifth spot when the safety car returned in the latter stages.
Two laps remained when racing resumed for the final time and, with rain beginning to fall once again, the field was levelled somewhat for the top five, all of whom had remained on wet weather tyres as the track surface dried. Knowing that time was against him, Josh immediately set about his podium charge, picking off Eduardo Barrichello at Turn Three and then passing points leader Dino Beganovic around the outside a few corners further on. Chasing down long-time leader Pierre-Louis Chovet for much of the last lap, the Van Amersfoort driver saved his best for the final corner, ducking inside and out-dragging his rival to the line to complete a 1-2 result for the team.
Buoyed by his best result of the season — and that all-important first Rookie class win — Josh was immediately on the pace when the curtain was raised for race two qualifying on Sunday morning. Despite lapping just a tenth off Beganovic, the VAR driver would start from fourth on the grid due to FRECA's two-group qualifying system, but jumped Owen Tangavelou off the line and held third throughout the opening lap, which ended with the safety car appearing once again.
Having defended his position at the restart, Josh was then the fastest driver on track and closing on the top two when another accident down the field slowed the action and brought the field together once more. A repeat performance when racing resumed allowed the VAR car to stay ahead of title contender Gabriele Mini, with the leaders always in sight, but, again, just as the action was building to a thrilling last lap climax, the safety car took its final bow of the afternoon, confirming Josh in third place, again at the head of the rookie class.
By claiming the most points of anyone all weekend, Josh not only improved his overall championship position, but closed to within six points of Leonardo Fornaroli at the top of the rookie standings, setting up a couple of fascinating sequels in the coming weeks.
"It was a fantastic weekend!" the youngster confirmed. "From the great comeback race on Saturday to pretty much maximizing everything on Sunday, we finally showed, in black and white, where we are supposed to be and the huge steps we have made throughout the season.
"We also showed that whatever the conditions were or whatever session it was — quali or race — we could be right there at the top! Now we have to focus on preparing ourselves and giving everything for the final two rounds of the season."
Round nine of the 2022 Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine takes place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, in Spain, over the weekend of 15-16 October.