Jose Maria 'Pechito' Lopez
Jose Maria Lopez, nicknamed Pechito, is a racing driver from Argentina who reached the peak of the world three times, consecutively winning the FIA World Touring Car Championship in 2014, 2015 and 2016, while driving for Citroen factory team.
Pechito currently competes in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Toyota.
Double Formula Renault champion early in a career
Jose Maria was born in April 1981 in Rio Tercero. Like almost every pro racer, he gained his first driving experience in karting. When he was 20 years old, Lopez moved to Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup and also performed in Italian Formula Renault series where he immediately became a champion. He continued with Formula Renault V6 Eurocup and in the first year won the crown by winning five races.
The next step in Lopez's career was going into the International Formula 3000. In 2004, he took sixth place while in the following year he was part of the inaugural GP2 season. He had spent two years in this competition, but without much success. This was followed by a return to Argentina and performances in several competitions, including the ALMS.
F1 remained elusive
Lopez experienced the taste of F1 as a test pilot for Renault in 2006. In 2010, Lopez was close to performing in races because he had signed an agreement with US F1 Team, but the project of American squad crumbled. There was also a chance for him to join Campos Racing after they decided to choose Indian Narain Karthikeyan. Somewhat disappointed, he continued to race in various competitions in Argentina and won Super TC2000 title in 2012.
Three championship titles in national competitions
Pechito Lopez was very successful in his homeland before his try to get into Formula 1. In TC 2000 series, country's most prominent touring cars competition, he won titles in 2008 and 2009, while in Top Race V6 series he became a champion in 2009.
Lopez easily could win three titles that year, but was unlucky at the final race of Turismo Carretera championship after crashing on the last lap of the final race.
Move to World Touring Car Championship in 2013
In 2013, he made probably the best decision in his career when he stepped into the FIA World Touring Cars Championship with the Wiechers-Sport and immediately managed to achieve a victory. In the following year, he was assigned to the Citroen Team and overwhelmingly, against all expectations, won the title by winning 10 races. At the end of the season, Lopez had astounding 126 points more than second placed Yvan Muller.
"It has been much better than I expected. I ended having broken the record for wins and points in a season, against very experienced guys, including Yvan Muller who has been the reference in the series for many years. It will be difficult for me to equal this in 2015. It has been my best championship in my career”, said Lopez at the end of the triumphant season of 2014.
Third consecutive WTCC title
Argentinian ace repeated his success in 2015, again driving Citroen. Lopez defended his World Touring Cars Championship crown scoring 10 wins and 9 podium finishes in 24 starts, again beating his team-mate, and former champion, Yvan Muller, this time with a margin of 117 points.
The Argentinian ace won his third consecutive WTCC title in 2016. He scored eight wins and other three podiums on the way to another championship crown. Just like in the previous year, Lopez beat his teammate Yvan Muller by a huge margin of 124 points. At the end of the season, Citroen pulled put of the WTCC but Pechito earlier secured a new engagement.
Switch from touring cars to electric racing
He signed with ambitious DS Virgin Racing to drive alongside Sam Bird in the 2016 - 2017 Formula E Championship. Lopez won pole position for the season-opening race in Hong Kong but retired from the race.
However, Pechito picked points in the following three rounds and than reached his maiden Formula E podium in the sixth round at the streets of Paris. He added one more podium in the last race at Montreal, finishing ninth in the points.
Double programme in Formula E and FIA WEC
Lopez missed New York's Formula E event in July 2017 due to clashing commitments in the FIA World Endurance Championship because he joined Toyota Gazoo Racing in the meantime to drive their #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid alongside Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi. In his first endurance racing season, he retired at Le Mans 24h and scored a podium at Nurburgring 6 Hours, finishing sixth in the points.
Lopez was without a ride at the start of new Formula E season after leaving DS Virgin but he joined Dragon Racing from the third race in January 2018. He ended a season in 17th place. Pechito stayed with Dragon Racing in the fifth FE season (2018-2019), finishing just 21st in the points.
Two Le Mans podiums in the 2018-2019 FIA WEC super season
Pechito was also announced as one of Toyota Gazoo Racing drivers in the FIA WEC super season 2018-2019. In June 2018, in his second attempt at Le Mans 24 Hours, he reached a podium by finishing second.
A year later, the super season was concluded with one more race at Le Mans. Pechito and his teammates in the #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid finished second again, after leading the race for 23 hours. They were also second in the championship points.
For the season 2019-2020, Pechito left Formula E and stayed with Toyota in the FIA WEC.