José-María López, sitting pretty at the top of the World Championship standings, will be given a hero’s welcome by a partisan crowd.
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 one year, when the World Touring Car Championship came to 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, then, was a major event.
José-María López, already considered as 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 of winning race 2. A little earlier, 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 award him their third official driver’s berth for the 2014 season.
Less than a year after the story began, 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 title in 1957.
Back from the break…
In additional to its symbolic significance, the meeting also marks the resumption of the racing season after a six-week hiatus. The team took advantage of the time off to service the cars, before taking them to Antwerp and loading them onto a ship along with all of their equipment. Safely arrived in Buenos Aires after crossing the Atlantic, the containers were then forwarded to the province of Santiago del Estero, 1200 km away.
Following seven meetings in the short space of eleven weeks, the Citroën Racing drivers occupied themselves in various ways over the summer recess. Sébastien Loeb’s schedule included the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Le Mans Classic, and was rounded off with a few days’ holiday with family and friends in the Mediterranean. While he never strayed too far from a race track, Yvan Muller worked on his physical conditioning with plenty of cycling, including an ascent of Mont-Ventoux. Pechito López, meanwhile, was the first to cross the pond to rediscover his beloved Argentina…
Feeling rested and motivated, the three men are ready to return to the heat of the battle. López leads the overall standings, 39 points ahead of Muller, and 65 points in front of Loeb. With 275 points still up for grabs, there is still everything to play for for all three Citroën drivers!
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.”
With the WTCC and eight races of Turismo Nacional, the Argentinian meeting will be a 100% touring car affair! The World Championship drivers will take to the track for free practice on Friday at 12 noon and Saturday at 8.45 and 11 a.m. Qualifying will take place at 3 p.m. on the Saturday, while the races will start at 2.15 and 3.25 p.m. on the Sunday (GMT-3).