Francisco López Contardo was born on 15 September 1975 and grew up amid the steel of his family’s mechanical workshop in the city of Curicó, located in an area in Chile’s central valleys with a strong campesino and wine growing tradition.
His father Renato — three-time national motocross champion in the 1980s — gave him an early passion for speed and his nickname “Chaleco” (Sweater), as he used to race while wearing wool sweaters that his wife Ana María would knit for him.
He became an assistant at the family workshop and his dedication led to a Latin American championship in 1989 and another 10 national titles for the same discipline, but in different engine sizes.
Aware of his potential, he changed specialty and won gold medals in the traditional International Six Days Enduro in Brive la Gaillarde (France) and Fortaleza (Brazil) in 2001 and 2003, respectively.
“Chaleco’s” first world championship came in 2006, when he clinched first place for the season in the 450 cc cross country rally category aboard a Honda.
His performance earned him a contract with the Austrian team KTM in 2007-2009 for the over 690 cc category, with which he was able to climb the winners’ podium in the Central European and Tunisia rallies.
In September 2009 the Italian brand Aprilia offered him a job as an official driver to work on the development of the 450 cc RXV rally model, with which he came in third in the Argentina-Chile Dakar race.
On that occasion, Lopez took advantage of the public’s support and his home field advantage to win three stages and to finish only few seconds behind the Frenchman Cyril Despres and the Norwegian Pal Ullevalseter, both from KTM.
Riding the same Aprilia bike, Lopez later became the first Latin American to win a race in Africa valid for the International Motorcycling Federation (FIM) cross country championship, winning the Tunisia rally in 450 cc.