Joshua Dufek confirmed his potential as a frontrunner in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine by claiming victory in the Rookie class at Zandvoort over the weekend. Unfortunately, his time on the top step was brief.
Returning to home ground for his Van Amersfoort Racing team, and the site of his maiden ADAC F4 series podium last season, the Swiss-based youngster was confident that he could banish memories of a couple of unfortunate recent FRECA rounds and resume his assault on the points places. Claiming the best time amongst the rookie drivers in the pre-event test only served to heighten optimism in the Dufek camp, as did a solid showing in two chaotic red flag-affected practice sessions on Friday. Better was to come in qualifying for race one on Saturday morning, however, as Dufek — who had been under the weather leading up to the event — took fourth in his group to start a season-high eighth on the grid.
Despite a poor getaway, an aggressive opening lap allowed the 17-year-old to regain his position by the time they crossed the line for the first time, and he continued to harry the cars ahead of him for much of the race, picking up another spot when Sebastian Montoya made a mistake under pressure and fell back. Second in class — and seventh overall — then looked likely until a late safety car was required to clear up an accident further down the field, allowing Dufek to close in on sixth, and take the position at the restart with two laps remaining. With his victim tumbling down the order after the pass, Dufek was clear to take sixth place at the chequered flag and, with it, his first victory in the Rookie class.
Unfortunately for the youngster, having climbed down from the podium, he was adjudged to have used the 'push-to-pass' overtaking aid on his black-and-orange VAR Tatuus fractionally before taking the green flag, forcing the stewards to add a ten-second penalty to his overall race time. Dufek was not alone in making the error, but it both deprived him of the class win and dropped him out of the points positions.
"Saturday could have been a near-perfect day had it not been for my mistake," he admitted. "Our speed had been promising throughout free practice, and we were able to carry that into the weekend, get a good starting spot and then use that to gain a couple of places and what we thought was the Rookie class win. Unfortunately, I'd pressed the 'push-to-pass' button 45 metres short of the timing line in my haste to pass [Victor] Bernier and, with the field so closely bunched at the end, the ten-second penalty had a big effect on the results."
Determined to make up for the disappointment of Saturday, Dufek set out to at least replicate his performances as the FRECA field did it all over again on Sunday, but was frustrated to miss out on another fourth place in his qualifying group by just hundredths of a second, leaving him to start 13th overall. Getting a better start than he had 24 hours earlier, however, the teenager was already up to 12th by the end of the opening lap but, before he could make any further gains, the race was red-flagged for an incident behind the #13 car. After a lengthy hiatus, and another safety car restart, Dufek was again on the attack, remaining in the battle for the final point despite being forced through the turn one gravel trap as he attempted a pass around the outside. Undaunted, he went on to make a couple of incisive last lap passes on Mari Boya and Roman Bilinski to ensure that he added to his season-long total and left the Netherlands with something to show for his efforts.
"This was undoubtedly my best weekend so far, in terms of both performance and results," Dufek noted. "Regardless of the penalty in race one, we were competitive in every session and were able to notch up another top ten finish, even if it required a last lap lunge on Bilinski into T9 to get the final point. With my confidence and experience growing, hopefully we can now carry this level of performance through the second half of the season."
Round six of the 2022 Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine takes place at the Hungaroring, near Budapest, over the weekend of 9-10 July.