Nestor Girolami was the fastest driver around the Vila Real street circuit during the first WTCR practice session of the weekend, setting a benchmark lap time of 2:01.971.
Munnich Motorsport‘s Hondas were once again the pace-setting cars, with Girolami and team-mate Esteban Guerrieri towards the top of the time sheets. It would’ve been a Munnich Honda 1-2 result, had Mehdi Bennani not split the pair of them in his SLR Volkswagen.
Bennani will be desperate for a positive weekend at Vila Real this year. 12 months ago, he and team-mate Rob Huff caused the largest pile up that the series has ever seen, and in doing so snatched defeat in the face of victory. This season has also been a tough one for the Moroccan, but if he continues to perform at this level throughout the weekend, he could gain a great boost in confidence and championship points.
Behind the top three, Yvan Muller placed fourth in his Lynk & Co. This will serve as good news for the Cyan Racing team, who will be looking to regain their early season form.
In fifth place, Augusto Farfus was the best of the Hyundai quartet, but only just, as Norbert Michelisz finished the session in sixth.
Rob Huff was the victim of bad luck last time out at the Nurburgring, and like Bennani, has a point to prove on these Portuguese streets. The Brit ended up around seven tenths slower than his team-mate, finishing in seventh place, but it seems as though the team has a strong basis to work from.
Aurelien Panis, who did well to go ninth fastest in his Cupra, was sandwiched on the time sheets by Hyundai duo, Gabriele Tarquini and Nicky Catsburg, in eighth and tenth respectively. As such, all four Hyundai entries made it into the top ten.
The marque with the most amount of work to do, however, is undoubtedly Audi. Not even Jean-Karl Vernay could get a tune out of the RS3 in this first practice session, with the Frenchman finishing down in 18th position, a whopping 1.7 seconds off the pace of Girolami.