Three-time World Touring Car champion Jose Maria Lopez says he came “very close” to making a return to touring cars this year, only to back out of a WTCR deal at the last minute.
Lopez goes into a second season of racing for Toyota’s FIA World Endurance Championship team this year, a role he combines with a drive in Formula E with the Dragon Racing squad.
After parting ways with DS Virgin Racing at the end of the 2016/17 FE season, Lopez was left on the sidelines of the all-electric series until the opportunity to return arose when Neel Jani left Dragon after the Hong Kong 2017/18 season opener.
Speaking to Motorsport.com, Lopez revealed he almost completed a deal to join the reborn World Touring Car Cup with an unnamed team, and admitted the late decision to return to FE meant he may have “let some people down”.
“I already had an opportunity [to join WTCR] this year when I wasn’t in Formula E and I wasn’t sure about the Toyota programme, I was very close to being part of the championship,” Lopez recalled.
“I cannot say with who, but I nearly had a closed deal. [But] at the last minute I had the call from Dragon, I had to take the decision.
“Maybe I let some people down, but for me I can challenge myself more in Formula E racing with ex-F1 drivers, I can push myself more.
“I know what I did in touring cars, everybody knows. I have plenty of time to come back to WTCR. But maybe I wouldn’t have so many chances to be part of this kind of championship where age is more of a limitation.”
WTCC decline “sad”
Lopez, whose three WTCC titles came for Citroen in 2014-16, said witnessing the series’ decline after his departure made him “sad”, but feels the switch to TCR regulations for 2018 was the right move for the championship’s future.
“It was a bit sad to see how the championship went a bit down,” he said. “It was the championship that gave me the opportunity also to be here [in WEC]. Because of what I did in WTCC everybody starts to talk about me [again] after I spent so many years in Argentina.
“But I think sometimes you need to take a step backwards to get some momentum, and I think it’s a good thing [the change to TCR rules].
“We’re looking at a series with many cars, even if there aren’t any official teams. It’s a shame it’s not a world championship anymore, but It needed this to get stronger.
“I wish [promoter] Francois Ribeiro and everyone who is involved the best of luck and I hope they get stronger, hopefully we can have a World Touring Car Championship again soon.”