Jean-Karl Vernay (Leopard Racing Team WRT) was brimming with confidence as his main rival Attila Tassi (M1RA Racing) struggled in the two practice sessions.
Vernay and James Nash (Lukoil Craft Bamboo Racing) were the first to make their mark on the weekend as they traded fastest lap times in the early stages of Free Practice 1 although they would soon be displaced by Nash’s team-mate Pepe Oriola. His time of 1:29.591 keeping him on top until the BRC Racing Hyundai’s of Gabriele Tarquini and Alain Menu came to the fore proving their heavy ballast would not be a hinderance this weekend, their times of 1:29.196 and 1:29.548 eventually enough to see them home in third and fourth.
Belgian duo Frederic Vervisch (Comtoyou Racing) and team-mate Denis Dupont would replace the Hyundai’s shortly after, Vervisch leading Dupont by 5 hundredths of a second on a 1:28.806. The Hyundai’s behind were followed by Oriola in fifth, with Vernay, Gianni Morbidelli (West Coast Racing), Nash and Benjamin Leuchter (also of WCR) all closely in tow within 2 tenths of the Spaniard.
Championship challenger Tassi would not register a timed lap in the first session, his Honda consigned to the garage with an engine sensor issue whilst Davit Kajaia (GE-Force Racing) would complete a solitary slow lap as his Alfa Romeo required a damper change.
With drivers accustomed to the circuit, times fell heading into Free Practice 2 with Vernay fastest from Dupont early on in the session, the two amongst the first to break into the 1:28s. Comini was also third in the early stages, dispelling Comini’s comments in Zhejiang suggesting the Audi would be nowhere on the national configuration of the Dubai Autodrome. The Audi driver would eventually finish practice in ninth.
Dupont would finally seal the fastest lap-time of the session with a 1:28.510 despite a flurry of fastest sectors late on in the session. His SEAT stablemate Oriola would follow him with a 1:28.545 with Menu third in the fastest Hyundai with a 1:28.599. As the pace increased, ballast-laden Tarquini could only manage sixteenth with a 1:29.476, the last of a staggering 16 cars covered by just 1 second.
Comte led championship leader Vernay and compatriot Vervisch in fifth and sixth. Morbidelli, Comini, Josh Files in the fastest of the Honda’s, and Benjamin Leuchter would complete the top 10. Tassi could only manage eighteenth as the Hungarian and his team-mate Colciago, who finished fifteenth, continued to struggle for pace.