Photo: Citroën Racing

Yvan Muller leads red flagged Saturday morning practice in Portugal

Citroën’s Yvan Muller was fastest in Free Practice 1 on Saturday at the Circuito Vila Real, leading team-mate José María López in a session which was red flagged with nine seconds to go when ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton and Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini came together at the first chicane.

The times were closer than yesterday’s first test session, with the top seven cars all covered by a second. Yvan Muller produced the best time of 2:00.749 with just a few minutes left in the session, despite being slower than team-mate López in both of the first two sectors, Muller recovered it all in the final sector.

Before Tarquini and Chilton’s incident, the circuit had produced a few minor scrapes. Nika Racing’s Néstor Girolami had a near miss at the first chicane, locking up in his Honda Civic and managing to stop the car just before the barrier.

ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel also made light contact with the barriers and knocked loose the inner-wheel liner in his Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 and was forced to return to the pits.

At the end of the session, Tom Chilton was leisurely braking early at the first corner, with Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini on a quick lap being caught out by the Briton and running into the back of his Chevrolet Cruze. Chilton was able to return to the pits with damage to the rear, while Tarquini’s car needed recovery now having displaced its front splitter.

The two Citroëns of Muller and López therefore ended the session on top, but were being run close by Honda, with the independent Civic of Norbert Michelisz third, within two-tenths of a second of Muller. Citroën drivers Sébastien Loeb and Ma Qing Hua were fourth and fifth, with Honda drivers Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro classified sixth and seventh.

Néstor Girolami was eighth fastest, making his second WTCC appearance of the season with Nika Racing, with Hugo Valente the fastest of the Chevrolet drivers for Campos Racing in ninth.

The Ladas continued to struggle as they did yesterday, with Rob Huff their best placed driver in 11th, almost two seconds off the pace.

The second practice session is due to take place at 12:00 WEST.