José María López tops first free practice at Termas de Río Hondo

Citroën Total WTCC driver José María López was fastest of all in the first free practice session on Saturday at the Termas de Río Hondo circuit, leading the Honda Civic of Tiago Monteiro, who put in a late flyer to displace the Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën of Mehdi Bennani.

The session saw an early red flag after ten minutes as the ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet Cruze of Tom Coronel experienced a front-left puncture and briefly stopped on the circuit. The Dutch driver was able to recover the car back to the pits under the red flag and rejoin to finish 12th overall at the end of the session, just over 2.3 seconds off of the ultimate pace.

López led the time sheets throughout most of the session after taking over the P1 spot from Chinese team-mate Ma Qing Hua.

At the half way point of the session, the three factory Citroëns had moved to the top three placings, but in the last few minutes things changed, with first Mehdi Bennani grabbing second just seven-tenths behind López, moments after the Argentinian set his best lap of the session of 1:48.028.

After the chequered flag fell, Honda’s Tiago Monteiro put in a stunning final run to pinch second from Bennani, within half a second of the local hero.

“There’s always more, both in the car and in the driver,” said Monteiro after the session. “We have to keep working hard and focus on every detail. We’re not looking too much at the times but we’ll do our own thing and see where we are in qualifying.”

Sébastien Loeb finished fifth ahead of the other factory Citroën of Yvan Muller, with Gabriele Tarquini the second fastest of the Hondas in sixth position.

Rob Huff put in a competitive run for Lada Sport Rosneft, finishing seventh, just 1.4 seconds off the pace, while team-mate James Thompson was 17th, a further two seconds down.

Tom Chilton was the quickest of the RML Chevrolets in eighth, just ahead of Dusan Borkovic’s Proteam Racing Honda Civic, with Norbert Michelisz in the Zengő Motorsport Honda completing the top ten.

Free Practice 2 follows next at 11:00 ART (15:00 CET).