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Lopez: Toyota Co-Drivers “Spoke Well of Me” for AXR Ride

Jose Maria Lopez enjoying WEC champions’ Stateside reunion; adapting to IMSA challenges…

Photo: Brett Farmer/IMSA

Jose Maria Lopez says that his fellow reigning FIA World Endurance champions Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway “spoke well” of him to Action Express Racing ahead of his signing with the team for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Lopez is making his debut in the race today sharing the Henrick Motorsports-crewed No. 48 Cadillac DPi-V.R with Kobayashi, Mike Rockenfeller and Jimmie Johnson. Conway is driving the sister No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing WEC Hypercar driver first got in contact with Action Express and Hendrick when key figures from both organizations, including Gary Nelson and Chad Knaus, attended the 24 Hours of Le Mans last August.

At around that time, a seat was opening in the No. 48 Cadillac as Simon Pagenaud, who teamed with Kobayashi and Johnson last year, was on the move to Meyer Shank Racing.

After winning Le Mans, Lopez entered formal discussions about a potential Daytona ride, leading to a move that he suggested was in part helped along by his Toyota co-drivers.

“Every time I knew there was a chance, I said that I would really like to race at Daytona,” Lopez told Sportscar365.

“For this kind of thing, everything has to come together. I met Gary and people from the team in Le Mans last year, so there was an opportunity and I took it.

“For sure having Kamui and Mike on the team helped: they spoke well of me!”

Kobayashi added that he wanted someone with high endurance racing experience like Lopez to join the crew: “Simon had to go to Acura, so the team was looking for another driver.

“We pushed for Jose because we know what we can do. He has experience in endurance and that’s why we tried to put him in the car.

“The Action Express guys came to Le Mans last year and talked about the situation with Simon. That’s why the team spoke to Jose and they made a deal in the end.

“I think it is much easier than if we take a younger, fast driver because endurance races are a bit different. I know Jose well because he is in my car all the time. That’s why it was the best decision.”

Lopez feels as though he has slotted into the No. 48 crew well, thanks in part to his strong working relationship with fellow world champion Kobayashi.

“It’s good because I know him already and he knows me as well,” he said.

“We have been working together for a long time now. We know only by looking in our eyes, more or less what we need.

“I know what Kamui needs in the car to be quick, and he knows what I need. For sure that helps a lot.

“But at this level of drivers you’re sharing the car with, they’re all very good. Mike Rockenfeller has won here before so it hasn’t been a problem to adapt to him.

“Jimmie has also been great: he is a great person and a great driver who is always open to learn and help the team. I think it’s very nice that we have a really nice crew.”

Being an IMSA rookie, Lopez has needed to adapt to several new elements including the championship’s sporting regulations.

“There are a few things to get used to, like the yellows and the [wave]-arounds,” he said.

“There are a lot of things that are different to what we do normally. But watching videos and preparing has been vital, and I’m prepared for the race.

“It’s nice to see different ways of working and different cars.”

Daytona Ends “Crazy Week” with Toyota Test

The Rolex 24 marks the end of a “crazy week” for both Lopez and Conway, who flew to Spain on Sunday when the Daytona qualifying race occurred to join Toyota for a pre-season LMH test at Motorland Aragon.

The pair took part in the endurance run on Monday and Tuesday, before flying back out west to be at Daytona for Wednesday afternoon in time for Thursday practice.

“It was important to be [at Aragon] especially because it was difficult to manage the amount of drivers that Toyota has,” said Lopez.

“Seb [Buemi] and Nyck [de Vries] had to fly to Formula E earlier. It was an endurance test and they were lacking drivers, so we had to go.

“It has been tough not sleeping because we had to run at night. But we are team players.”

One potential similarity between the test and Daytona is the impact of cold weather.

Saturday night is predicted to drop to around 34 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) while Lopez reported that Aragon hit freezing.

“It did go better than last year [when a test was snowed off] but it was extremely, extremely, extremely cold,” he said.

“We were close to not running at night. We were close to -15 C (5 F) on track temp.

“It was -3 or -4 (24 or 26 F) outside and the track temperature was really cold, but we managed to go through the night and the program.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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