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Joshua Dufek remains firmly in the hunt for Formula Regional European Championship honours as the series heads to its final round, after taking a third Rookie class win on the bounce in Spain at the weekend.

A sweep of class victories at the Red Bull Ring in round eight launched the Swiss-based teen into contention for the crown and, with his performance only improving with each round, similar success at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya would have ensured he remained neck-and-neck with his main rival heading to the series finale, at Mugello, this coming weekend (22-23 October). An unfortunate retirement from the second race in Spain means that Josh's task will be a bit tougher now, but the fight remains to be taken to the final chequered flag of the season.

Practice for the Barcelona round proved remarkably unremarkable, with Josh taking his turn at the top of the timesheets as the field continually improved at a circuit most know well from either previous seasons or pre-season testing. With a massive 35 cars on track at the same time, and on a layout not renowned for its passing opportunities, final position in the order was something of a lottery, with little of note in terms of a pecking order to carry forward to qualifying.

The packed track was inadvertently repeated in the following morning's qualifying session as heavy fog descended on the circuit and forced a rethink of the usual schedule that would have split the FRECA field in two. Having played a team role in giving his team-mate the benefit of an aerodynamic tow to briefly set the pace, Josh struck out on his own, eventually claiming seventh spot on the timesheets, which became the outside of row three by the time the race started later in the day.

As usual in Barcelona, once the opening lap shuffle was out of the way, position changes were few through the first two-thirds of the race, with Josh involved in a frenetic battle with Gabriele Mini that, through no fault of his own, ended up costing the Van Amersfoort driver valuable places in the order. While he regained spots in the final few laps, however, Josh was also encouraged to see his main Rookie title rival, Leonardo Fornaroli, moving in the opposite direction, the pair eventually finishing seventh and ninth respectively, allowing Josh — who duly claimed his third Rookie class win in as many races — to close to within four points of the overall lead.

"Saturday wasn’t bad considering some of the challenges we faced, like traffic in qualifying and a clutch issue in the race," Josh commented. "In fact, the only thing that could have gone better would have been avoiding the one-place penalty for cutting the chicane and allegedly gaining an advantage, which cost me two vital championship points."

In the second group of drivers to hit the track for Sunday morning's qualifying session, Josh was unable to rise any higher than seventh on the timesheets, and 14th on the grid, as the split field returned after Saturday's hiatus. Starting on row seven, even with the majority of the pack behind him, presented Josh with a steep climb into the points, although his main rival wasn't too far ahead on the grid.

An early safety car period then kept the field bunched up as laps ticked by, adding urgency to Josh's task when the pack was finally unleashed. Looking to make up as many spots as possible, he was soon on the rise but, having had to take evasive action on one passing attempt, found himself fatefully being hit by another car with just a handful of laps in the book.

"I'd put myself on the back foot slightly with some mistakes in Sunday qualifying which, because it was so closely matched, meant I was further down the order than I would have wanted," Josh admitted. "I wasn’t quite able to capitalise on the situation and therefore started the race just outside of the points — which wasn’t ideal.

"The early safety car reduced a lot of the race time, which eliminated most of the tyre wear element that I was relying on to make up some positions. From there, I tried to get more creative with my overtaking attempts but, on one, I braked slightly too late and had to take to the escape road. Although I rejoined safely,I then got hit by another driver under braking for the next corner, resulting in my car being damaged beyond repair."

Unable to add to his points tally, Josh slipped back from Fornaroli at the head of the Rookies table, and heads to the tenth and final round of the season needing to erase an 11-point deficit across the weekend's two races. Mugello, however, holds positive memories for the 17-year-old, having been the scene of his first Italian F4 victory last season.

"I’m looking forward to going back to Mugello, as it’s a very fast and flowing track — which suits my driving style," Josh noted. "Of course, I have happy memories of last season and winning there in F4, and hopefully I'll get those vibes again this time around. Eleven points is a sizeable gap to make up, but the best thing is not to think about that too much and simply focus on ourselves to make sure we do a good job and maximise our chances of finishing the season off with some good results."

Round the of the 2022 Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine takes centre stage at the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello, in Italy, this weekend of (22-23 October).


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