American F1 team USF1 signs Argentine driver Lopez

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Jose Maria Lopez will drive for the new American Formula One team USF1 in 2010.

Argentina President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner announced deal in Buenos Aires on Monday, saying her government was "very happy to get behind this exciting new project."

Lopez, a 26-year-old former Renault test driver, is the 24th Argentine to drive in F1 and the first since Gaston Mazzacane at Prost in 2001.

Lopez, who has over 6,000 test miles under his belt, dominated Argentine racing after returning when an F1 seat fell through in 2007.

"This is a truly memorable day for me, my family and the people of Argentina," Lopez said. "Of course a new F1 team faces many challenges, but our goal is to improve with each race and build a foundation that will eventually see this team competing for wins and championships."

USF1 executive vice president Pete Windsor said the team followed Lopez since 2003 and was "thrilled to have him on board." The Charlotte, N.C.-based team is still to name its second driver.

"You can nail every step along the way but if you don't have the right guys in the seats, everything else is for naught," Windsor said. "With Jose Maria Lopez we have further positioned ourselves for a successful 2010 debut campaign."

Lopez will make his debut at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on March 14.