Joshua Dufek came within four laps of landing the 2022 Formula Regional European Championship rookie title as his impressive late season form continued at Mugello, only for an untimely safety car intervention to scupper his bid.
Having recorded his third overall podium and again outscored rookie title rival Leonardo Fornaroli in race one of the season-ending tenth round, Josh appeared to have put himself in prime position to realise a dramatic denouement to his campaign by then producing his best grid position of the year. Running in the second qualifying group early on Sunday morning, the Swiss resident kept improving throughout, eventually putting his #13 Van Amersfoort Racing entry at the top of the timesheets and onto the front row, not only ahead of his rookie rival, but also the new series champion and those debating second overall on the year.
Indeed, with Fornaroli only managing the fourth-best time in the opposite group, five places separated the pair on the grid, with Josh in position to snatch the crown if nothing changed during the race. Even when the lights went out to start, and the VAR driver lost a spot into turn two, the situation remained positive, with Fornaroli also dropping back. For the majority of the opening 20 minutes, Josh remained in contention for another podium finish, lapping on a par with the top three, while simultaneously opening a gap to the cars behind as his rival struggled to keep pace.
Unfortunately for the talented teen, however, an incident much further down the field ultimately determined the destiny of the rookie title, as the resulting safety car interruption bunched the remaining runners, not only allowing Fornaroli to erase a deficit he never looked likely to under normal conditions, but also bringing other drivers already dropped by Josh back onto the tail of the #13. Things then unravelled further at the restart as, even though the VAR driver got a good jump, an opportunistic move from Hadrien David — who had been several car lengths adrift prior to the safety car — forced Josh wide and through the Turn Three gravel. As the 17-year-old fought to rejoin, he lost two more places, returning to the track immediately ahead of Fornaroli.
Despite the obvious frustration and reversal of fortune, Josh again showed his fighting mentality, immediately opening a gap to his rival as he closed back in on the cars ahead. Time, unfortunately, was not on his side and, unable to regain any positions, seventh to Fornaroli’s eighth wasn't enough to snatch rookie honours.
"We had a very good starting position thanks to our great qualifying performance but, in trying not to take too many risks because of the championship situation, I lost a few positions at the start," Josh explained. "In spite of that, I was able to keep up a very good pace throughout, and was hunting P3 down before an incident brought out a late safety car, which obviously bunched everyone back together.
"At the restart, I defended into T1, but then got caught out on a late lunge from an attacking driver going into T3. That forced me out into the gravel, and resulted in me falling all the way back to P7, which was unfortunately not enough for the rookie title as, with only a few laps left, I didn’t really get a chance to fight back."
Earlier in the weekend, Josh had done all he could to ensure his title bid extended into Sunday, topping free practice for a long time before continuing his recent run of qualifying form to claim third in Group A and line up one spot behind rookie rival Fornaroli on the inside of row three. In the race, the VAR driver quickly despatched Fornaroli to run fourth and then, somewhat ironically, used a safety car restart to pass overall champion Dino Beganovic for third on the run into San Donato.
Despite being unable to challenge for second on the road and another rookie class victory, Josh completed the podium and, more importantly, shaved a vital five points from his championship deficit, setting up a nerve-wracking culmination to a fascinating season that started slowly before coming on strong when it mattered most.
"I was able to drive a controlled and smart race on Saturday, making the most of overtaking opportunities such as the safety car restart, which meant I was able to finish in a solid P3 after starting from P5," Josh reflected. "After such a good result, the outcome of race two was obviously a disappointing end to what had been a great weekend — and a great second half of the season!"
With his late-season form undoubtedly opening future opportunities, Josh will spend the next few weeks reflecting on 2022 before announcing his plans for next year.
"Despite the disappointing end to a great weekend — and a great year — we have made so much progress," he concluded. "We showed consistently in the second half of the season how competitive we are, and I am looking forward to fighting for a championship next season!"