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Lopez in Possible Toyota Driver Shakeup for 24H Le Mans

Jose Maria Lopez says he could move into No. 9 Toyota for Le Mans…

Photo: Toyota

Photo: Toyota

Jose Maria Lopez could be set to move to the No. 9 Toyota TS050 Hybrid for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as part of a possible driver shakeup at Toyota Gazoo Racing for the race.

Lopez crashed out on his FIA World Endurance Championship debut at Silverstone in April, leaving the Argentinean with minor injuries to his vertebrae and forcing him to miss last weekend’s Six Hours of Spa. 

While the No. 7 Toyota of Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi went on to finish second in the race as a two-man team, Lopez has revealed that he may not return to that car for Le Mans, in order to give the full-season entry the best chance of success.

“We will see which car I will be driving in the end, because it’s not so sure,” Lopez told Sportscar365. “We will see because I haven’t [done] much driving, so I could find myself maybe driving the No. 9 car.

“That was predicted and we know that, especially for experience, we all want that the team wins Le Mans and that’s the main objective.

“Probably the fact I missed Spa and Silverstone, I’m not maybe going to be 100 percent at Le Mans. There would be no problem to be in another car, because in the end the cars are the same.

“The teammates that I have, they are very strong.”

It’s unclear if Lopez’s possible move to the No. 9 car could be part of a greater driver shakeup within the team, with LMP1 debutant Yuji Kunimoto having struggled at Spa alongside his more experienced co-drivers Stephane Sarrazin and Nico Lapierre, who both had previously been part of Toyota’s full-season lineup.

Ryo Hirakawa, who was in contention for a race seat in the third car and completed significant pre-season testing, is currently the team’s reserve driver.

When reached by Sportscar365, a Toyota spokesperson said they don’t have anything to say regarding any potential changes at this time.

The three-time WTCC champion is returning to the wheel of a race car in this weekend’s FIA Formula E race in Monaco, just one week after sitting out of the Spa WEC event.

Lopez has a test scheduled in the Toyota later this month at Spa, ahead of the Le Mans Test Day on June 4.

“It is hard to be out of a car, honestly. It’s really hard and it’s something that for sure I didn’t want and didn’t predict,” Lopez said of sitting out the Spa race.

“But at the same time it was a pleasure to see my teammates performing that well. They did a fantastic race. Even also the two sister cars did a fantastic job.

“It’s very nice to see that Toyota is performing well. Now the big race is coming. Really looking forward to being at Le Mans.”

Luke Smith is a British motorsport journalist who has served as NBC Sports’ lead Formula 1 writer since 2013, as well as working on its online sports car coverage.



  1. CookieMonsterFL

    May 13, 2017 at 10:48 am

    This needs to happen. I am confident Lopez has a good footing under him and Silverstone was a a teething moment gone bad, but you need to have two solid bullets in the chamber without a hint of driver-concern.

    The #9 is always a ‘just in case’ entry (all 3rd car entries are now; used to be the 4th), so why not stick Nico with the two rookies and see what can be made? Porsche didn’t fair so badly last time the did that (I know, different circumstances).

    • seth

      May 13, 2017 at 12:57 pm

      I mean 3rd Porsche won in 2015

    • KW

      May 13, 2017 at 2:45 pm

      The point is that Stéphane Sarrazin has shown an extremely strong race at Spa, which speaks very much in favour of him for the #7 lineup. It seems that Toyota wants the third #9 car just as sort of a backup if the others should get into trouble during the 24 h. And I think it is most likely that Kunimoto and Hirakawa will change places for the 24h. Hirakawa is showing good pace in ELMS, whereas Kunimoto was far too cautious not to anything wrong at Spa.

      • Jack

        May 13, 2017 at 6:00 pm

        Nico I think will get the drive over Stephane. Nico has been insanely quick this year and set the fastest lap at spa in his car.

        • TF110

          May 13, 2017 at 7:33 pm

          But Sarrazin was more consistent and his lap times were better over the stint. Plus Lapierre made a mistake at the beginning of the race with that huge lockup. Luckily it didn’t hurt the car but that’s not something the team is looking kindly at. I think Sarrazin will get the drive in the #7 because he drove with the other 2 last year so it’ll be the old lineup.

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