José María López
Man from Argentina leads Formula One team of America
Where’s the beef? Tons of it can be found in the land of Pampas – Argentina.
That’s where one of the principals of USF1, Peter Windsor, traveled to for a “Fistful of Dollars” in return for a seat at their Charlotte, NC based Formula 1 team.
So what happened to what Ken Anderson called last year “talented Americans racing in Europe?” Then there is Jonathan Summerton. His name was linked from day one and who remains the only driver to give Team USA victory in A1GP competition.
USF1, according to Peter Windsor, was looking at all the talent that was available in the “more industrious” United States. From Danica Patrick to Kyle Busch. The answer is simple racing reality. Speed costs money, how fast do you want to go?
In José María López they have their “Speedy Gonzalez”.
Jose Maria López, aka “Pechito”, may not be the next Senna but he is also no slouch. In the footsteps of the great “Maestro” Juan Manuel Fangio and the moody “Lole” Carlos Reutemann, he traveled to Europe seeking success in the cut throat world of single-seater racing across the pond. And almost made it.
He was born in Rio Tercero on April 26, 1983 in the Argentine province of Córdoba.
López landed in the 2001 Formula Renault 2.0 Euro Cup driving for the Italian Lucidi team, and qualified an impressive 5th at Monza for his first race and finished 11th. At Nurburgring he scored his first pole position and achieved season high finish of 6th in the final race at Estoril.
In 2002, he tackled both the Formula Renault 2.0 Euro Cup and the Italian series. He started the Euro Cup season with victory in the opening round at Jarama. Other podium finishes were 2nd at Spa and 3rd at Estoril. In the championship he finished 4th despite missing four events.
On the Italian front López was on fire from round three of the championship. Winning four of the last five races, Monza, Varano, Misano and Mugello. Other podium finishes at Pergusa, Spa and Magione helped him seal the championship over Robert Kubica, 205 to 188 points.
In 2003, Lopez moved up to the Renault V6 Euro Cup with the French DAMS team. The “A” is for one time Renault and Ferrari F1 driver Rene Arnoux who is no longer involved with the DAMS team.
López had a strong season and won the championship over Swiss driver Neel Jani with eight poles, fives wins, and 12 podium finishes from 18 starts.
The team and driver combination took up the challenge of Formula 3000 International in 2004. Third place podium finishes were achieved in Monte Carlo and Spa. López was sixth in the championship.
The season also saw him join the Renault Driver Development programme, where fortunes were determined as much by performance as by the driver’s relationship with Flavio Briatore.
López was on his way to be the next Lole.
The Final Frontier
In 2005, the Formula 3000 International was replaced by the new Bernie and Briatore hatched and promoted GP2 series, the official feeder series to the promised land of fame and fortune, Formula One.
Make a winning impression here and entry is granted, like Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
The season started on a high note for López, who remained loyal to DAMS team for the third straight season in a different series. He qualified on the second row at Imola and finished second to race winner Heikki Kovalainen in the first ever GP2 race.
In the second race of the second round in Barcelona Lopez grabbed his first GP2 victory. This, however, would remain his only success in the series. His only other podium finish was second in the feature race at Magny Cours.
Failure to finish in seven races hurt his championship chances and he was classified 9th in the final standings with 36 points, compared to 67.5 points for third place man Scott Speed and 120 points for the inaugural series champion Nico Rosberg.
López’s last stand in Europe was in 2006 with the Norfolk-based English team Super Nova, headed by veteran racer David Sears, for a second make-or-break season in GP2. He was also signed on as test driver for the Renault F1 team.
Three podium finishes, at Nurburgring, Magny Cours and Hockenheim, and a solitary pole position looked impressive but the career was clouded by a high number of dnf’s, 10 from 21 starts. Hardly the stuff that would impress managers at Minardi or Fondmetal let alone Ferrari.
While Lewis Hamilton set new standards in rookie performance and won the championship over Nelsinho Piquet, 114 points to 102, López was languishing in 10th place in the final standings with 30 points.
His European expedition was over when he was dropped from the Renault Driver Development programme.
Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina
It may have been a painful journey back to Buenos Aires but has been very fruitful. López has been racing in local touring car scene since returning to his native land and has been very successful.
Past two seasons he has been competing in two different series, TC2000 and Turismo Carretera, each year. He captured the 2008 championship in the TC2000 series after finishing 5th the previous season despite missing three events.
During the 2009 season López raced in no less than three championships. Winning the TC2000 with three wins and six poles from 12 starts. He also triumphed as champion of the Top Race V6 series with five wins and eight poles. He was runner-up in the Turismo Carretera Argentina with two wins and five poles.
Charlotte to Córdoba. Drivers Wanted. Cash preferred.
The announcement of a new American team was greeted with great enthusiasm both at home and abroad. Bold claims of rejecting experienced F1 drivers flashing millions of dollars for a seat gave a much needed ray of hope to young American drivers who prefer to make right and left turns for success in racing.
Chad Hurley, co-founder of You Tube, was introduced as a major investor which gave the impression America’s Team had deep pockets, especially now that You Tube is part of the Google Empire.
First sign of back tracking on home grown talent in the cockpit came with the concern over no American drivers available with super license. Jonathan Summerton’s name was high on the list as one of the few American drivers with race winning credentials in major overseas racing series, from A1GP in Shanghai to F3 Euro Series at Hockenheim. It is hard to believe that an effort was not made to provide him the necessary seat-time to qualify for a super license. And Yuji Ide can make it to the Grand Prix grid!
With López on board USF1 team the car will reportedly feature advertising from Argentine beef and tourism industry, the same consortium which suported “Lole” when he landed in Europe in the 70s. The same “Lole” who once had Peter Windsor as his manager and now holds government office in his native state, Santa Fe.
Back to the future.
Let’s hope there is some for young American drivers soon at USF1.
— Nasir Hameed