Joshua Dufek was in the right place at the right time to claim his first Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine point as the weather gods again played havoc with round two of the series at Imola.
After a wet-dry season-opener at Monza last month, the entire field was hoping that conditions would be more conducive to uninterrupted track time and good racing, but fate had other ideas, unleashing the first of the weekend's rainstorms during Friday's practice sessions. The first 50-minute session was already running behind schedule thanks to delays earlier in the schedule, and remained wet throughout, leading to no fewer than four red flag stoppages that ultimately brought the session to a premature end. Fortunately for all concerned, the second session started dry, allowing the entire field to improve on their morning performances before the rain inevitably returned, prompting further red flags. Josh kept a relatively low profile during the mayhem, logging as many laps as he could in his Van Amersfoort Racing entry in preparation for the remainder of the weekend.
With the large 36-car field again necessitating division into two groups for qualifying, the Swiss resident found himself in the first cohort on track, enjoying the chance to run slick tyres on a circuit that was, at last, beginning to show a consistently dry surface. However, with only 15 minutes to set a competitive lap time, and enough damp track waiting to ensnare the unwary or over-exuberant, Josh knew that he still had to balance pushing for a time with a degree of caution, eventually taking seventh position in his group.
The weather was holding firm as the FRECA field took off, for race one but that did not prevent another red flag from flying almost immediately, following an accident deep in the field. With multiple safety car periods and a second red flag that brought the action to a halt with one lap remaining, there was very little opportunity for Josh to make progress through the field, the 17-year-old's gains being limited to a single position as he crossed the line 12th overall, less than a second behind the final point-scorer.
Qualifying for race two the following morning again saw Josh in the faster group, this time running second on track and benefiting as the surface improved throughout. The fastest drivers remained closely-packed on the timesheets and, on this occasion, Josh posted the eighth-fastest time in his half of the field to line up 15th on the grid.
"The pace was there in both qualifying sessions, but I didn't manage to get a good slipstream," Josh noted. "With all the incidents on track, there was also an element of luck surrounding the timing of your flying lap and, unfortunately, I was on a cool down lap, attempting to position myself for another run, when the red flags came out."
Perhaps predictably given the weather patterns earlier in the weekend, rain had returned to Imola by the time race two was to get underway, prompting the organisers to order the field to start behind the safety car. The light rain that accompanied the green light, however, was quickly replaced by a full-on downpour, bringing a return to the mayhem of previous sessions. With multiple safety cars and yet another red flag hiatus — which allowed most of the field to switch to wet-weather tyres — preceding a full-course caution to end the race, progress was again stop-start for Josh, but he had clawed his way up to 11th place by the time he swept under the chequered flag, now agonisingly closer to the points than ever. One bittersweet aftertaste, however, was quickly replaced by another, as the stewards promoted the VAR driver to tenth overall following the post-race disqualification of another driver.
“It's great to get my first point in FRECA, even if I didn't really want to get it this way,” Dufek conceded. “The two red flags, two safety cars and just five racing laps made race one pretty uneventful, and race two was crazy with the weather conditions changing constantly. However, the VAR team gave me a good car, and my race pace was good, so we were able to take advantage of the chaos to gain five positions and finish tenth.
"In general, I think we can be happy with the weekend as a whole. Our pace is good in all sessions, and I'm able to make up positions in the races, so we just need to focus on taking a step forward in qualifying to ensure that those positions are all in the points.”
Round three of the 2022 Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine is the biggest of the season, as the series joins the F1 support bill at the Monaco Grand Prix, over the weekend of 28-29 May.