Race preview: Stakes high in Argentina for Lopez

WTCC Race of Argentina will be more important than ever for him

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By Olivier Ferret

30 July 2016 - 15:56
Race preview: Stakes high in Argentina

WTCC Race of Argentina will be more important than ever for FIA World Touring Car Championship king José María López. Not only can the 33-year-old edge a step closer to his third WTCC title with a winning weekend in Termas de Río Hondo, he’ll also move ahead of legendary countryman Juan Manuel Fangio in terms of FIA world championship races won.

El Maestro, ranked as one of the greatest racing drivers of all time with five Formula One championships over a seven-year period in the 1950s, claimed 24 grands prix victories, plus three wins in the World Sportscar Championship. So far, López has notched up 27 WTCC triumphs including four on home soil, putting him level with his illustrious compatriot.

But it’s the significance of the occasion that will matter most to López. Having dominated the WTCC for the best part of three seasons, the Citroën driver has chosen the FIA Formula E Championship for his next motorsport challenge, meaning this year’s WTCC Race of Argentina could be his last, for the time being at least. He’s braced for an emotional weekend. “Every win is special but when you win in another country it’s only yourself and the team who is enjoying this,” said Pechito López. “In Argentina it’s yourself, the team and 40,000 people at the track enjoying the moment. It makes it much better, much nicer, much more emotional.”

López hails from Córdoba, 500 kilometres south of Termas. And having famously won on his WTCC debut at the venue in 2013, he’s a fan of the circuit, which also hosts his country’s MotoGP round: “It’s very wide, one of the best in Argentina and always great for me. I wouldn’t say it’s the circuit I know most in Argentina so I know the other drivers can also be quick here.”

Of those drivers, two in particular will hope to be suitably rapid. Honda’s Tiago Monteiro trails López by 101 points in the title chase and needs to build on his momentous home victory in Portugal last time out to erode his rival’s advantage, while WTCC newcomer Esteban Guerrieri will make it two Argentine drivers on the grid (see later). LADA’s Nicky Catsburg, Mehdi Bennani, Yvan Muller, Norbert Michelisz and Rob Huff are also well-placed in the standings.

BUSY WTCC STARS READY FOR MORE

It might have been more than a month since the World Touring Car Championship was on track in Vila Real, Portugal, but several drivers have been keeping busy in that time. Yvan Muller’s eponymous team has been in action in France and Austria. LADA spent three days testing in Spain with Nicky Catsburg and Gabriele Tarquini in its Vesta test car. Robert Dahlgren was on Scandinavian Touring Car Championship duty for Polestar at Falkenburg in Sweden. Tom Coronel will take part in the Buenos Aires 200 Kilometres from 30-31 July with Esteban Guerrieri also competing in the Súper TC2000 showcase. José María López will be in the Argentine capital too, but will swap steering wheel for microphone as an expert summariser. Catsburg will attempt to defend his Spa 24 Hours victory in Belgium (30-31 July), while Rob Huff will go back in time when he races a Ford Capri in the Silverstone Classic event over the same weekend.

ARGENTINIAN GUERRIERI GETS DREAM WTCC CHANCE

Esteban Guerrieri will follow in the wheel tracks of fellow Argentine José María López when he makes his World Touring Car Championship debut on home soil. Guerrieri, 31, will drive a Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 for Campos Racing in what he hopes will be the start of a long-term WTCC adventure. Buenos Aires-based Guerrieri will take inspiration from López, who scored a debut WTCC win on a one-off outing at Termas de Río Hondo as a privateer in 2013 before earning a factory Citroën drive. It was the catalyst for a dominant, record-breaking WTCC stint for López, which to date has included two world titles. Now Guerrieri, who like López shone in single-seater racing, has been handed a dream opportunity to race in the WTCC in his native Argentina with a full-time drive in the championship from 2017 his target.

FROM BELGIUM TO ARGENTINA VIA BRAZIL THANKS TO DHL

WTCC Race of Argentina is the first of five overseas races where all cars and equipment are transported from Europe by sea or airfreight as part of the championship’s long-standing agreement with DHL, the WTCC’s Official Logistics Partner. In total, 31 40ft shipping containers carrying 190 tonnes of cargo were shipped from Antwerp in Belgium on 7 July to Buenos Aires – via two scheduled stops in Brazil – where they arrived on 26 July. From the Argentine capital they are being transported by road in convoy to Termas where they are due to arrive on 31 July.

QUOTES

Nicky Catsburg (LADA Sport Rosneft): “One of the most anticipated races in the second half of the season is definitely WTCC Race of Argentina as it’s a new track for me. Last year it was the season opener and I joined LADA SPORT ROSNEFT only in Moscow. The layout looks very nice and flowing and I expect it to be good for the LADA Vesta. I have seen several on-board cameras and, of course, the team provided me with videos to prepare for the race. I really like the challenge! One of our main goals ahead of Argentina and the rest of the rounds is to find more pace with added ballast. We also need to improve our performance in dry conditions.”

Robert Dahlgren (Polestar Cyan Racing), pictured: “I am really looking forward to Argentina and to get going again after the summer break. It was awesome being back in the WTCC again in Portugal and I can’t wait to continue to take steps forward next weekend with the team.”

Rob Huff (Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team): “Termas is one of the best circuits we go to. As a driver it’s a beautiful track. It’s very flowing, it creates a lot of fantastic racing with good overtaking. It’s relatively high-speed in the sense of carrying corner speed. It’s one of the nicest layouts we have because we don’t have all this run-off area. It’s a new track but with a traditional old style and if you run out really wide you’ve got a problem. If you go off you’re in the gravel or the grass and that’s how it should be. The limits of the track are the limits of the track. It’s a track that works and fits the championship very nicely.”

José María López (Citroën Total WTCC): “Every win is special but when you win in another country it’s only yourself and the team who is enjoying this. In Argentina it’s yourself, the team and 40,000 people at the track enjoying the moment. It makes it much better, much nicer, much more emotional and I have won in Termas for the last three years. It’s a circuit where you can find your lines. It’s very wide, a MotoGP track of course but it doesn’t have a big amount of grip. It’s a very interesting circuit, one of the best in Argentina, always great for me. I wouldn’t say it’s the circuit I know most in Argentina so I know the other drivers can also be quick here.”

Esteban Guerrieri (Campos Racing, WTCC Trophy): “It’s a great opportunity and to be part of an FIA world championship is not something that happens every day. I am very enthusiastic to have the chance to compete against the best. Many times in my career in Europe I had to jump into cars I never tested before and went straight to race weekends, and performed very well. These situations empower me even more. I love the track. I am proud of having such a circuit in Argentina. I know it very well, indeed we raced there with Súper TC2000 earlier this season so I have a fresh memory, which should be good and hopefully it plays in my favour.”

A lap with José María López

It’s the venue where José María López got his international career firmly back on track when he won on his FIA World Touring Car Championship debut in 2013. This is the Citroën-driving home hero’s guide to the 4.806-kilometre Circuit Termas de Río Hondo.

“We start with one of the shortest main straights of the year but it’s very important to have a good exit from the last corner in order to have good speed.

“Turn 1 is quite long, a bit open in the beginning but then it closes. Traction is very important here because you can experience understeer on the exit. We go to third gear and then fourth gear for Turn 2, a good place to overtake because you can change your line, take some kerb and go for it.

“Turn 3 is normally flat on new tyres and very important to get the right speed because we have a long straight after Turn 4. Sometimes you need to compromise your speed through Turn 3 to have a good exit speed for the long straight, which is a very good point for overtaking. Although the straight is long, it’s also a bit uphill so we don’t reach full speed.

“As with other corners on the circuit there is a lot of high-energy and deep braking and that’s certainly the case for Turn 5, where we go from sixth gear to second. You exit from Turn 5 and have the long Turn 6, which is flat normally before you brake downhill for Turn 7. Braking here is quite difficult because it’s downhill but you always think you can brake later, then you lose the car at the front.

“Getting good traction out of Turn 7 is very important. It’s a long corner, taken in third gear, and sometimes you can have understeer so plenty of front power is good.

“Following Turn 8, Turns 9, 10 and 11 are like a high-speed chicane with nice braking into Turn 9. It’s very easy to lose the rear of the car as we saw with some cars, especially in the first year of the WTCC race, losing the rear when they were trying to overtake.

“Turn 11 is very nice, not flat but a very high-speed corner and very difficult. You always run out of space on the exit, especially in qualifying when you are trying to find the limit.

“Turn 13 is another overtaking point because you exit from Turn 11, you go wide and you need to go a little bit wider to make a good line. It’s a very tempting place to go inside but the car on the outside will close the door at one point so you have to be careful before you get to Turn 14 and the finish line.”

José María López’s perfect passing place: “Braking deep into Turn 5 and Turn 13 are both good places for overtaking.”

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