Lopez: Don't expect Citroen out front early in 2016
Defending WTCC champion Jose Maria Lopez says the dominant Citroen outfit might struggle during the beginning of the 2016 season.
The French manufacturer, which has run the show in the WTCC since its arrival two years ago, will exit the series at the end of this year and has slimmed down from four to two works entries this season.
And Lopez suggests that Citroen could be in for a very different type of campaign for its last hurrah in the championship.
"There are many changes - team line-ups, driver line-ups, there is a new brand coming," the Argentine told Motorsport.com. "There’s been more preparation from the opposition. So, I think it’s going to be a different year.
"We are going to have ballast weight. It is more. Last year everybody started with 60 [kilos]. Now, this year we start with 80, others with zero. That makes a bit of difference.
"I think people shouldn’t be expecting us to be on the front in the first two races. I think it’s going to be hard. We hope, yes, but I think it’s going to be hard."
The year for Honda
Lopez singled out Honda as Citroen's biggest threat in 2016, due to the changes within the Japanese team - which has expanded to three works entries this year.
"I think the competition will be definitely harder. Honda will be stronger this year," he said. "We are waiting for them. I think this is the year for them.
"They have changed the line-up. They have got Rob Huff, who, for me, is one of the best touring car drivers in the world.
"They have [Norbert] Michelisz, who was last year already one of the strongest Hondas in the field, and Tiago [Monteiro] who has won a lot of races. So, a strong team."
With each team focusing on its own programme, Lopez insists no conclusions should be drawn from the Vallelunga test.
“Testing [in WTCC] has become a little like [in] Formula 1," he added. "You never know what others are running. In testing, nobody puts new tyres at the same time - you put them on in different conditions.
“As I said, the true [picture] is qualifying of the first race. That’s why I’m so always excited for the first race. Were the efforts put together during winter worth it? Did we do the right thing? How did we work?
“Everything is played in the first race. Of course, you have the weight changing for all the cars. Paul Ricard qualifying will reveal the truth.”
Interview by Stefan Ziegler
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