Following in the footsteps of Formula One, the 2018 World Touring Car Cup teams arrived at the Circuit de Catalunya to undergo preparations for the new season.
For many teams, this would provide them with the opportunity to get to grips with new machinery and new driver relationships prior to the season which lies ahead. One man who missed out on proceedings, however, was Rob Huff. Having signed with Sebastien Loeb Racing for 2018, the Brit became sidelined by illness and was therefore unable to get to work in his new surroundings.
The day would be split into two halves. In the morning, a four-hour test session would be held, followed by a second session in the afternoon. While this allowed for plenty of track time, we perhaps aren’t any closer to knowing the natural order of the field. The reason for this is that dirt on the track and strong wind speeds made for difficult conditions, while there is always the inevitability that ‘sandbagging’ (the tactic of deliberately withholding the true pace of your car) will occur.
Nevertheless, the accolade of being the early pace-setter is not be sniffed at. In the morning session, Pepe Oriola provided a performance which would set the tone for the rest of the day by putting his Cupra TCR at the top of the time sheets. In the afternoon, his Campos Racing teammate John Filippi would shave another two tenths of a second off Oriola’s morning lap time. Together, Oriola and Filippi were the only drivers to get below the 1:55 minute barrier.
Elsewhere, the Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3s were showing good pace too. In the combined standings from both sessions, Aurelien Panis led Nathanael Berthon and Frederic Vervisch to make it two Cupras and three Audis in the top 5.
2018 would reunite fans with some legendary touring car names of the past. Gabriele Tarquini, Yvan Muller, Fabrizio Giovanardi and James Thompson will all be making their return to long-term competitive action this year, and it was Tarquini who would walk away from the Circuit de Catalunya with the early bragging rights. His best time of 1:55:917 was good enough for 11th place on the day, higher than any of his fellow returnees.
Although the pit lane was full of familiar faces, some of the cars parked up in the garages were anything but familiar. DG Sport Competition debuted the Peugeot 308 TCR with Aurelien Comte and Mat’o Homola behind the wheel, while Boutsen Ginion Racing and Munnich Motorsport took the covers of their new, much-fancied Honda Civic Type-R FK8 TCRs.
Frenchman, Yann Ehrlacher, was the quickest of the Honda drivers thanks to a lap time of 1:55:782 – exactly the same as the aforementioned Frederic Vervisch to take joint 5th position in the combined session leaderboard. It was also a highly promising day for Comte and Homola in the Peugeots; both of whom would finish inside the top 10 by the end of the afternoon.
Full combined session standings:
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