It took until the final round of the 2023 season, but Rafael Villagómez made his last chance count to secure his first points of the season with Van Amersfoort Racing. The Mexican driver delivered a mature and controlled drive into the points in both the Sprint and Feature Races, keeping himself out of trouble and capitalising on the potential he felt the team had all weekend.
An error in Qualifying left him down the order, with 20th on the grid far from representative of the package he had according to the man himself. A round full of incident included plenty of Red Flag and Safety Car intervention, turning a complicated weekend into an even trickier prospect. Villagómez says that confidence on Friday changed the mood in the VAR camp and led to level-headed drives in both races, as he maximised his opportunities.
“I think since Friday we’ve seen how messy it was. The only clean session we had was probably Free Practice. In Qualifying, we only had one lap which was tricky. We were going for quite a good lap, but I made a mistake and ended up P20. On Saturday I knew we had a good car and good pace as well. We finished P10 in the Sprint after penalties and again in the Feature, it was even more chaos.
“It was the last race of the year, so it was a little bit messier. We just stayed out of trouble. At one of the Safety Car restarts I got hit from behind and thought I was last. I looked at the pit board and saw P11 which wasn’t too bad.”
Surviving the races at Monza is far from a straightforward task as many experienced across the weekend. Keeping out of trouble can leave you vulnerable to being passed by those behind, but the Van Amersfoort driver believes that his approach paid dividends.
Not trying to force any half chances led to him keeping his nose clean and making solid progress as others got too aggressive and faced the consequences. Had the race run to the end without one last Safety Car in the closing laps, he believes an even better result was on the cards.
“There are different approaches for sure. We didn’t have the year we wanted to but coming into the last weekend I just said let’s just risk more and take the opportunities we can. It’s a track where the racing is very harsh, we’ve seen that in F3 and F2. Basically, you need to keep it clean, risk as much as you can without overdoing it.
“Since Friday I knew the pace was there. Today I was a bit more relaxed because we’d already scored points but still, we wanted to take every single opportunity. It was a shame that there was a final Safety Car because I think we could’ve made up a few more positions but that’s racing.”
Signing off the 2023 season with a scoring result is the least VAR deserve according to Villagómez who says that there have been some tough moments throughout the year.
Unfortunate Qualifying results and some misfortune have prevented a better season for the team he says, but achieving back-to-back P10 finishes from as far back as he did is proof of their progress together.
“It’s great. The team deserves quite a lot more. All year, we’ve more or less had the pace but sometimes you need a little bit of luck and sometimes Qualifying didn’t go our way for whatever reason. So it’s good for myself and the team to end the season this way.”