José María López will make his full-time debut in next year’s FIA World Touring Car Championship with Citroën Racing, as the French marque makes its debut in the series.
The Argentine driver will team up with four-time series champion Yvan Muller and nine-time World Rally Championship winner Sébastien Loeb in the team’s three-car squad.
López has been a dominant figure in the South American touring car scene for a number of years, winning the Super TC 2000 Championship three times.
His successes saw him make a one-off appearance when the WTCC made its first visit to Argentina at Termas de Río Hondo. Filling in for Fredy Barth at the Weichers-Sport team, López kept the unfancied BMW 320TC inside the top-ten all weekend, earning a reverse-grid pole position for Race 2, which he won at a canter.
His performance was one of the highlights in a season dominated by his future teammate Muller (then driving for RML), and he also caught the eye of Citroën, which offered him two test outings in its brand new C-Elysée it developed for its maiden season of WTCC racing.
“We have attempted to secure the best drivers for our team,” Citroën Racing team principal Yves Matton said.
“We have high expectations of José María López, who has proven to be very comfortable at the wheel of the C-Elysée WTCC during his first tests.”
The team officially unveiled its World Rally Championship and WTCC programmes at its Versailles headquarters overnight, with Matton confirming that the team was looking forward to replicating its off-road success in circuit racing.
“After spending the last ten years or so at the top of the WRC, we are excited about the idea of writing a new chapter in our shared history with Sébastien Loeb,” Matton added.
“We chose the WTCC because it is a form of racing with controlled costs, a genuinely-worldwide race calendar and a lot of media coverage.
“The challenge awaiting us in the WTCC is also very motivating, but we need to learn about everything in this discipline,” he continued.
“We feel that we have worked well on the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, even though we have no real basis for comparison given that the regulations are new for all of the competitors. Yvan Muller’s assessment, who believes the car has been well designed, has reassured us in terms of the direction we have taken. We can’t wait to go up against our rivals on track to get confirmation.”
Matton also confirmed that a fourth C-Elysée WTCC would be entered for the final Asian flyaway rounds in China, Japan and Macau for an as-yet undisclosed Chinese driver
The team had hoped to enter an additional at selected rounds for former Grand Prix winner Robert Kubica, however the Pole’s defection from Citroën’s rally programme has given the team a different path to take.