Josh Dufek might not have got the results his performances deserved at the final round of the Italian F4 Championship, but left no-one in any doubt that he knows how to handle a race car after twice climbing back amongst the leading contenders at Monza.
Three weeks on from adding his name to the list of winners in a highly-competitive 2021 series, Josh headed to the Autodromo Nazionale looking to end his campaign on a high. He was suitably buoyed by the pace of the #13 Van Amersfoort Racing entry in pre-event testing, and backed up his Thursday performance by again featuring at the top of the timesheets in official practice on Friday. Opening qualifying boded well too, with the 16-year-old briefly topping the times before a late-session flurry of improvements shuffled him back to seventh on the grid, but Q2 was a different matter and, with a driver's second-best time across both sessions determining his grid position for the third and final race of the weekend, proved to be doubly disappointing for Josh. Unable to improve on his first session time, the Swiss resident dropped to the tail of the top 20 and, having to rely on his back-up lap from Q1, only improved to 17th when the grid for race three was drawn up.
"Qualifying at Monza is a skill in itself, but also needs an element of good fortune to work in your favour," Josh explained. "While I think I got the maximum out of myself and the car in Q1, I'm sure I could have posted a faster lap right at the end had I not caught a slower car at the final corner. In hindsight, after not positioning myself ideally to pick up an all-important slipstream in Q2, that misfortune not only denied us a better starting position in race one, but race three as well."
Starting in the mid-pack is often fraught with problems, especially in a category as closely-contested as F4, and particularly at Monza with its tight opening chicane. With a mixture of skill and good fortune, Josh was able to avoid the inevitable accidents, immediately gaining positions at the start of both races two and three. From there, the only way was up, as the #13 machine made inexorable progress through the order. From the inside of row 11, Josh had jumped to 15th by lap three of Saturday afternoon's event, keeping his head while others around him were losing theirs in very wet conditions. Continuing to pick off opponents at regular intervals, he was on the cusp of the top ten with the chequered flag being readied, but pushed right to the end to ensure he claimed tenth overall.
Sunday morning's conditions weren't much better but, with a dry line appearing, Josh joined the majority of the grid in taking slick tyres for the season finale. Having tip-toed through the chicane, and survived a squabble for position over the opening couple of laps, he was up to 13th by lap three and again highlighted his passing prowess by breaking into the top ten just four laps later. With a car capable of recording the highest speed of the race, and once again back amongst the leading sector times, Josh continued to hunt down and pass other rival, eventually taking the flag in eighth overall.
“With the way that qualifying worked out, overtaking was always going to be the order of the day,” Josh admitted. “Even though the conditions weren't the best, it was still fun out there — and thanks must go to VAR for giving me a car that allowed me to catch and pass. My aim in both races was to make it well into the points and I showed that I was able to do that, so there was still something positive to take from the weekend."
Ironically, the race in which he was best placed to return to the podium proved to be Josh's biggest disappointment, as heavy contact from a chasing car at the Ascari chicane left his VAR machine with a puncture. From running fourth overall, Josh dropped to the tail of the 34-strong field on lap six, but again showed never-say-die spirit by climbing back to 22nd. With his race programme for 2021 now completed, the youngster will turn his attention to the future, with a series of test sessions lined up to help determine his path for next season.
"Obviously, missing the podium after the strong run of results we've had was not the way I wanted to end the season, but that's how it goes some times," Josh concluded. "Overall, though, the year has been pretty good and I think that I've shown the best of my abilities. Now, I'm looking forward to what the winter brings and setting my sights on bigger and better things for 2022.”