In the final of our series of driver interviews from Formula E’s pre-season tests, earlier this month, Laura Prior caught up with new DS Virgin signing, Jose Maria ‘Pechito’ Lopez, to discuss his involvement in Formula E, his early start in motorsport, how he will adapt to a new series, and just why everyone calls him Pechito!
EVP: Pechito, it’s lovely to welcome you to the Formula E family! Why Formula E? Where did your involvement start, and what drew you to the series?
“Why Formula E? For sure, one of the main factors is because Citroën is leaving WTCC at the end of the year, so I started to look for other options, and the fact that one of the branches of the group, PSA [PSA Peugeot Citroën] – which is DS [Virgin] – is involved in this, it got my attention. That was the beginning. Then of course, the level of the drivers, the level of the teams, the places where you go, and the competition – to be able to compete with different people and try to be competitive. I think that the level of drivers is one of the highest levels, probably after Formula 1, that you can find in any series.”
EVP: When we get a new driver to the series, fans are naturally curious about you. So, for those who don’t know much about you, or don’t follow Touring Cars, when did you first start racing? When did you realise that was what you wanted to do?
“It was early in my life. At eight years old, I just knew this is what I wanted to do. You know, as sportsmen, sometimes we are really lucky to know what we want to do at an early age. When you have people after 30 years, they don’t know what they want to do still. I was very lucky to have my family which supported me, and they put me in the sport, and I loved it and then I kept going. But I would say by the time I was ten already, it was something I wanted to do.”
EVP: And your nickname of ‘Pechito’ – what’s the story behind that?
“This is coming from my country. We use a lot of nicknames for people. It’s a bit difficult to explain…”
EVP: “Because in English, it means ‘little chest?’
“Little chest, yes. But it’s not the meaning [in Spanish]. We are big fans of football, Argentinian people – where I’m from – and we say ‘pecho frio’ normally, which is ‘cold chest’, to a team in football which is not playing well, or they are not giving everything in the game. So we call them ‘cold chest’ or like… I don’t know how you say it! So one time, my father went to a meeting for amateur racing, and in this meeting, it was not quite right. They were discussing the safety, about the track, and nobody was getting along, or in the right direction. So my father got really angry with them, and he called them a ‘cold chest’ – to everyone. And they didn’t know him, so they started wondering ‘who is this guy who said ‘cold chest?!’ and after they started to call him ‘chest’ [pecho], so of course after that [gestures to himself] the little guy, they started to call little chest [pechito]. That’s it. It sounds better in Spanish! [laughs]”
EVP: It’s always difficult to read into car performance at Donington, but how does the car feel What’s different for you, in comparison to other series you’ve raced in?
“It’s tricky. It’s not the easiest car I have driven! It’s very difficult to find the limit. But, as you say, it’s also difficult to know here in Donington, because this is a track like… we will not find this kind of circuit anywhere, where we’re going. They are other types of circuit. So for me, it’s about seeing where I am compared to the others, to keep learning the systems, to keep learning the behaviour of the car. I think the beginning of the season will be completely different. It doesn’t mean if you are super quick here that you are going to take the championship, and it doesn’t mean if you are really slow here that it’s going to stay like this. But of course it gives you an idea compared to where you are with the others.”
EVP: Do you think any skills you’ve learned in other series are transferable to Formula E, or is it completely different to anything you’ve tried before?
“I think [Formula E] is quite unique! For sure, experience is what you achieve with time; you cannot buy experience. So, for sure that is one of the things I have learned. Racing skills,of course. But then I think for the races, I need to… you know, I’m starting with a ‘white page’, and I have to write everything again.”
EVP: Looking to this year, we have some new cities on the calendar. Montreal, a NYC finale, Marrakesh. Is there any race you’re particularly looking forward to this year? Perhaps somewhere you haven’t raced before?
“I think Monaco and New York. New York is one of my favourites, and my wife’s favourite cities, so I think New York is going to be fantastic. Montreal… I think it’s one of the things about the series, the places we go are fantastic, and of course my home race in Buenos Aires is going to be great.”
EVP: I was about to mention Buenos Aires, of course! Is it nice for you to have a home race on the calendar, in your first year in Formula E?
“For sure! Not many guys can drive at home. Di Grassi, he doesn’t have a race at home. Buemi, he doesn’t have a race at home. So, I’m lucky. I’ve been racing at home in WTCC, now I have the opportunity to go to my people and show them.”
EVP: How is your relationship with Sam Bird? I don’t believe you’ve worked together before, so are you looking forward to the challenge of a strong team-mate?
“No, we haven’t worked together. So far, we don’t know each other too well. I can tell he’s a good person, a good team-mate, and I think we’re going to get along very well. And of course he’s a fantastic driver. I think he’s one of the best in the series.”
EVP: Finally, what are your goals for this season? Taking it race by race, or are you coming in strong, and going all out to challenge the top teams?