30 October 2014
WTCC Japan: Rivals hail new WTCC champion Lopez
Jose Maria Lopez's success hasn't gone unnoticed or unappreciated by his fellow WTCC rivals...
Jose Maria Lopez has been lauded by his fellow World Touring Car Championship rivals after clinching the 2014 title in his first season of front-wheel drive touring car racing.
A ninth win of the season in Suzuka was more than enough for Lopez to secure the 2014 WTCC title for Citroen Racing with one round at Macau remaining, the former GP2 race winner becoming the first Argentinian since Juan Manuel Fangio to win an FIA world title.
A fitting way to secure his title, Lopez – also known as 'Pechito' - has continuously belied his rookie status in 2014 driving the Citroen C-Elysee, shrugging off a prestigious field of former champions and race winners, not least four-time title winning team-mate Yvan Muller.
Indeed, having only made two WTCC starts prior to this season – highlighted by a race win on home soil in a one-off BMW outing – though the 31 year-old has had use of a dominant car in 2014, Lopez's success has nonetheless drawn the praise of his contemporaries.
“As they say in France: 'Chapeau!' One can only take his cap off and bow in front of such an achievement,” said Castrol Honda's Tiago Monteiro. “What López has done, in his first full WTCC season, working in an environment completely new to him, not knowing most of the circuits, is simply impressive. One must be really top class to come and just beat everybody, including the king of the category like Yvan.
“Of course, we knew that Pechito was fast and good, and I personally know him since we raced against each other in junior formulae and were together in Renault's Driver Development programme, but still, I would have never predicted such a success. I believe that the experience and know-how acquired in Argentine touring cars has been instrumental in bringing him so quickly at the top level.”
“I sincerely congratulate López, because what he achieved this year is really impressive,” added Zengo Motorsport's Norbert Michelisz. “I think he brought the level in WTCC a few steps forward… I have big respect for him, he is so fast and so good, and at the same time, he is a very pleasant guy. He fully deserved this title.
“What impressed me the most is that he is such a complete driver and the way he manages his races, how consistent and effective he is. It is something that I spotted immediately, because it seems to be intrinsic to his driving style and his general attitude. I saw him driving for the first time in February, during a joint testing session, and watching him said to myself: this is the guy to beat this year…”
His success hasn't surprised everyone in WTCC though, with ROAL Chevrolet's Tom Coronel claiming to have predicted Lopez would claim the title when he arrived.
“I must have been one of the very few who predicted that López would win the title,” the Dutchman said. “I said it before the first race started! I've been around enough in motorsports to be able to guess these things and even bet on him with my wife. Why? Simply because he was the underdog: the fast and strong guy coming from nowhere, with no pressure and no history in WTCC, a non-French in a French team. He started from a white sheet of paper, did everything right and imposed himself. He has the speed and the right mind-set of someone still young and hungry. Perfect mix.
“Of course, it worked because he was in a very professional and competitive team, but… well done! And don't forget that for many years, he has been racing 45 weekends a season in very competitive and closely-fought touring car series like Argentina's, with cars that have similar power and aero package as ours. That taught him something, I guess…”
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