Jose Maria Lopez says he expects to return to Toyota Gazoo Racing this year although admits that he’s “waiting on the final announcement” on his exact driving commitments for the 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship season.
The three-time WTCC champion had a turbulent rookie year in LMP1 competition, showing impressive pace but suffering multiple crashes, including a back-breaking accident in the season-opener at Silverstone that forced him to miss Spa and be moved to the team’s third Toyota TS050 Hybrid for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Despite reports of Fernando Alonso’s likely deal with the Japanese manufacturer for Le Mans, and potentially additional WEC races, Lopez remains confident he will get a chance to race, although the scale of his ‘Super Season’ program remains unclear.
Toyota has already made it clear it will not again enter a third car for Le Mans, which would force one of its existing drivers out, at least for the races Alonso would take part in.
“I’m waiting for the final announcement of the lineup,” Lopez told Sportscar365. “I have a long-term contract with them… [but] things can change really quick.
“There’s a few rumors that Fernando could come. There’s a few things we don’t know.
“But in the end, I love the series, I love driving LMP1 and I love to be a part of the Toyota [lineup] as well. I’m really looking forward to starting the season.”
Lopez said he hopes to build on from what he admitted was a “really tough” championship to enter last year.
His highlight of the season came with the pole-winning lap at the Nürburgring, where he scored his first of only two podium finishes in the year.
“I made mistakes for sure. I learned from them; it was my rookie season.” Lopez said. “I never [even] drove a LMP2 car before and never drove an endurance race before.
“I had to get used to it in a quick way because I had teammates that were really quick.
“But I felt really confident at the end of the season. The pace was there, it’s just trying to get a little better on traffic.
“[Next year] is a very important year for us. It’s the Super Season, there’s regulation changes, we have a good opportunity to try to win Le Mans this year. I think it’s going to be tough as always.
“We haven’t started testing yet, so we’re still a long way to the first race so we need to make good preparation to arrive as competitive as we can at Spa.”
WEC the “Main Program” for 2018
Lopez said his planned return to Toyota will take priority over any other racing commitments this year, including his new deal with Dragon Racing in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.
The Argentinean has filled the seat vacated by Neel Jani at the Jay Penske-owned team, after being let go by DS Virgin Racing last year.
“[The WEC] is my main program at the moment,” Lopez said. “The important thing is that I don’t have any clashes, so I can commit to both series. It works properly because last year we had a few clashes.
“It was one of the things that compromised my seat in Formula E last year.”