Alain Menu was fastest in the first free practice session at Suzuka on Saturday ahead of Chevrolet team-mates Yvan Muller and Rob Huff, whilst Tiago Monteiro’s Honda was even closer, just three-tenths back in fourth place.
In the relatively uneventful session, Alain Menu was able to set the fastest time, albeit over half a second slower than Yvan Muller’s time in the Friday test session as the majority of cars ran on old tyres.
Muller was on a faster lap at the end of the session but aborted. The reigning champion’s best time was just under one-tenth of a second slower than Menu’s, with Huff just under three-tenths shy in third.
Tiago Monteiro’s Honda Civic was the best non-Chevrolet in fourth. The Portuguese driver’s best time of 54.188 was only fractionally slower than his time from yesterday.
Pepe Oriola was the best independent driver in his SEAT León WTCC in fifth, setting the same time as Gabriele Tarquini’s SEAT. In seventh was Hiroki Yoshimoto, The Japanese driver an impressive seventh fastest in the SR León formerly driven by Monteiro.
Darryl O’Young was getting to grips fast with the Chevrolet at Bamboo Engineering, though the Hong Kong driver does benefit from an all new tyre allocation this weekend. O’Young was just ahead of his new team-mate Alex MacDowall, with Aleksei Dudukalo’s SEAT completing the top ten.
The best BMW was independents’ points leader Norbert Michelisz in 11th, who led three fellow BMWs of Tom Coronel, Mehdi Bennani and Alberto Cerqui.
James Nash was the fastest Ford Focus in 15th with its all new engine, which will see Nash and team-mate Chilton, who was 19th fastest, start from the back for race one.
The two STR SEATs struggled for pace in FP1, with Tom Boardman down in 21st just ahead of new team-mate Réne Münnich, whilst Masaki Kano in the normally aspirated BMW 320si was last, just under two-seconds slower than Menu’s time.
The next session is FP2 at 12:00 JST.