The sun was blazing at the Autodromo Termas de Río Hondo, with the atmosphere further heating up when young Matias Rossi and his Citroën emerged victorious in the Turismo Nacional race, held as a curtain raiser to the FIA WTCC.
Shortly afterwards, José-María López lined up in pole position on the grid for race one. When the red lights went out, he made the perfect start and hit the first corner in the lead, closely followed by Norbert Michelisz, who had got the better of Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb in the opening tussle. As the laps went by, the gaps widened, although Muller was constantly under threat from Loeb.
After completing thirteen laps at a pace worthy of a qualifying session, Pechito López delighted the 40,000 spectators by crossing the finish line as the winner. The two other Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs finished third and fourth, behind Michelisz.
A few minutes later, the cars lined up for race two. With the top ten from qualifying starting in reverse order on the grid, this second race promised to be livelier than the first.
There was turbulence in the pack from the off. Sébastien Loeb dropped back three places, having failed to execute his starting strategy properly, while Yvan Muller opted for a cautious approach amid the traffic. All this proved to be to the benefit of Pechito López, who fought his way through the field to end lap one in seventh place.
The three Citroën drivers then enthralled the crowd with an exhibition of overtaking manoeuvres. The prize for assertiveness must surely go to Yvan Muller, who spent nearly three whole laps locked in a shoulder-to-shoulder battle with Tom Chilton. Sébastien Loeb impressed too, moving past Norbert Michelisz, but the crowd’s favourite was, of course, José-María López, who passed Rob Huff to climb into the lead with five laps to go.
Pechito held that lead to the end, exhausted and emotional, he was given a triumphant reception by his fans for his twin victories. He was joined on the podium by Yvan Muller, who once again finished third. Sébastien Loeb finished race two in sixth place.
“Some people may find it a bit too corporate to start by thanking everyone, but that’s just what I feel like doing right now. Without my family and without Citroën, I wouldn’t be here. I am proud to be part of Citroën Racing, and to have Yvan and Seb as teammates. My wealth of experience on this circuit helped me a lot, but I was worried about the starts, which remain a weakness for me. Thankfully, this time, everything went OK. Race two was really exciting. The car just got quicker and quicker and I managed to work my way up the field into first place. It’s been a perfect weekend, and there’s no place I’d rather have produced a performance like that.” said López.
Source: Citroën PR
José María “Pechito” López earned the pole position at the Termas de Río Hondo Circuit by beating championship rival Yvan Muller by a big margin of 4 tenths of a second. Citroën made the 1-2-3 as Sebastien Loeb qualified third. Honda completed the top five with Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro. The race is set to be started tomorrow at 13:15 chilean time, 14:15 local time.
For Citroën Racing, its drivers, and the whole FIA WTCC, the meeting at the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo will be a special one. To understand why, we need to go back to last year, when the World Touring Car Championship visited Argentina for the very first time. Touring car racing is an extremely popular sport in this vast country, with three professional series: Super TC2000, Turismo Carretera and Top Race. The WTCC’s first visit was a major event, which captured lots of interest and drew large crowds.
José-María López, already considered something of an icon by motorsport fans, took part in the meeting on a one-off basis. Despite driving a car that was not as competitive as it might have been, the man from Córdoba pulled off the impressive feat, winning race two. Yvan Muller had taken one step closer to his fourth world title by coming out on top in the first race.
Pechito’s performance caught Yves Matton’s eye. A few weeks later, in the utmost secrecy, the Argentine driver was test-driving the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. His enthusiasm, impressive turn of speed and valuable technical input convinced the Citroën team to appoint him as their third official driver for the 2014 season.
Less than a year later, the driver of car number 37 is returning to Termas de Río Hondo as championship leader, a position he has occupied since the very first qualifying session of the season in Marrakech on 12 April. With five race wins under his belt, José-María López can now harbour realistic hopes of becoming motorsport’s first Argentine World Champion since Jean-Manuel Fangio won his fifth and final F1 title in 1957.
What they had to say
José-María López: “When I used to race in Argentina, I would compete in as many as 44 meetings a season. So I couldn’t wait to get back in my C-Elysée WTCC again. Unlike most of the European circuits, I know the Termas track very well, and I have always done well here. That said, I think it will be close with Yvan and Seb again. We’re going to have to fight hard, as we have in every race this season.”
Yvan Muller: “The Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo is an interesting circuit to drive on. It’s fast, and there are overtaking opportunities. I have to continue to produce really good weekends like I did at Spa-Francorchamps to try and close the gap on Pechito. We have a habit of saying that there’s still a long way to go until the end of the season, but it’s getting closer all the time.”
Sébastien Loeb: “Coming to Argentina is always a huge pleasure. The welcome we get from the crowd is incredible. It’s really great to see so many people who are crazy about motorsport. I have great memories here, with eight WRC wins, and I hope to add some more in the WTCC. I need to keep improving, especially in the pack, where you have to overtake at the start of the race.”
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