The big surprise a Spanish star delivered on the Monte

Pepe López has made his mark on the WRC after an impressive drive on the Monte Carlo Rally

Pepe Lopez

There are many ways a driver can make an impression in the World Rally Championship.

Some have the unfortunate honor of headlining the post-event crash reel. Others hand out legendary stage-end quotes as often as a comedian delivers punchlines.

But if you want to get noticed for what you are doing while still on the stages, setting fast times remains route one. Oh, and a fluorescent livery to help TV commentators spot you isn’t a bad idea either.

Happily, WRC2 competitor Pepe López ticked both of those boxes on the Monte Carlo Rally. You couldn’t miss the 28-year-old Spaniard in his bright yellow and orange Škoda Fabia RS, but López’s driving was even more memorable than his paint job.

López Pepe

Pepe López has 17 WRC starts to his name, but surprised many with his speed on the Monte

The three-time Spanish Superchampionship winner was quickest on eight stages on the Monte, and was engaged in an epic WRC2 tussle with the Citroëns of Yohan Rossel and Nikolay Gryazin – a tussle that raged for the full four days.

In the end, Rossel pipped López on the final stage to win the class by four seconds. Despite the disappointment of missing out on a maiden WRC2 victory, the Spaniard has proven beyond any doubt that he’s capable of winning at world championship level.

“It was a pity really, because we came so close to the victory,” he told DirtFish. “But rallying is like that. I think we can be proud of the performance that we did the whole race. [We had a] New team (Mapo Motorsport), new co-driver (David Vázquez), new car also. So I think we can be happy.

“At least we were beat by the team with the most experience (DG Sport, which is now running Citroën’s WRC2 effort this season). We try to find something positive, because now I am disappointed.”

It wasn’t just López’s second place finish that impressed in the WRC season opener, it was the way he fought back against the Citroën juggernaut time and time again over the course of the weekend.

Incredibly, the Škoda driver never dropped below second in the WRC2 standings through the event. He was jumped for the class lead four times, but not once did he take a backward step. Not once did he have the look of a less experienced competitor fearing a decisive blow. López wrote his own script, and thrilled onlookers by snatching the lead back on each occasion.

It was only Rossel’s final-day heroics that would finally and decisively demote the Spaniard to second, after the Frenchman overcame his 6.9s deficit on Saturday night to win on Sunday.

Pepe Lopez

Spain's latest WRC star led the Monte heading into the rally's final day

Although this year’s Monte wasn’t López’s first foray into the WRC (he has made a handful of appearances in Rally2 machinery including finishing third on the Monte in 2023) this season marks a step up in the Tarmac specialist’s program. We’ll be seeing plenty more of him in 2024.

“This year we plan the full WRC2 championship,” said López, “and then the national championship also in Spain. So it will be a busy year!

“It’s our first rally in the Škoda, so we took a lot of notes from the car, and on the next rallies the pace will grow for sure. Let’s see where we can be.”

And it isn’t just on the blacktop that López hopes to make his mark; he’s keen to disprove the prevalent theory about Spanish drivers’ and their surface specialism.

“Now this is what I want to do, show that I can be competitive also on gravel,” he emphasized. “Because we are from Spain, people think that we always can only perform on Tarmac, but I’m sure that I will show you on gravel that we are also competitive.”