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Norbert Michelisz sets the pace in first Vila Real practice

Honda’s Norbert Michelisz was the pace-setter in the first World Touring Car Championship practice session on the streets of Vila Real in Portugal, as Tom Coronel exited the session early after crashing into a fire rescue van.

Michelisz, who is recovering from a bout of illness he picked up during the week, posted the fastest lap towards the end of the session, with the Hungarian being one of six drivers to drop below the two-minute mark.

Times were notably lower than the qualifying records set by the field in 2016, where all bar three laps were below two minutes. Michelisz focussed on taking the new joker lap during the session, limiting his potential to put in representative fast times.

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“We struggled a bit with the grip level, we had some understeer, but looking at the lap times it seems that the others had similar problems,” said Michelisz. “I tried to do as much joker lap practice as possible.

“[The joker lap] is a bit different to what I expected because, looking from the outside, the kerb doesn’t seem to be too high, but when I tried to jump it one or two times it didn’t really feel good, so it was quite unsettling on the car.”

Michelisz’s Honda team-mate Tiago Monteiro was second quickest at his home circuit, despite some early issues with power steering early on in the session. The Portuguese racer was just over half a second slower.

Third fastest was the leading Polestar Volvo of Thed Björk, who was over a second off the pace, ahead of Münnich Motorsport’s Rob Huff in fourth.

Polestar’s championship leader Nicky Catsburg was fifth, whilst sixth-placed Mehdi Bennani was the last driver within a second of the pace in his Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën.

Japanese racer Ryo Michigami made sure all three factory Honda’s were inside the top ten with the eighth quickest lap, just behind Volvo’s Néstor Girolami.

Ninth-fastest Yann Ehrlacher clouted the barrier early on in the session, but the RC Motorsport LADA driver was able to continue after some repairs to his car.

The 45-minute session proved to be incident-filled, with ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel coming off worst when he locked up heading into Turn 19, lost a wheel when clouting the kerb of a roundabout, and speared into the side of a parked fireman’s van.

There was a further delay eight minutes from the end of the session when a stray pet dog made it onto the circuit and had to be retrieved by the local marshals.

Second practice takes place at 12:00 WEST (12:00 BST, 13:00 CEST), with qualifying following at 15:30 WEST (15:30 BST, 16:30 CEST).

Session results

1 5 Norbert MICHELISZ Honda Racing Team JAS Honda Civic WTCC 15 1:58.118 0.000
2 18 Tiago MONTEIRO Honda Racing Team JAS Honda Civic WTCC 14 1:58.709 0.591
3 62 Thed BJÖRK Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 Polestar 15 1:59.135 1.017
4 12 Rob HUFF ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Citroën C-Elysée WTCC 17 1:59.248 1.130
5 63 Nicky CATSBURG Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 Polestar 15 1:59.705 1.587
6 25 Mehdi BENNANI Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée WTCC 15 1:59.734 1.616
7 61 Néstor GIROLAMI Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 Polestar 14 2:00.257 2.139
8 34 Ryo MICHIGAMI Honda Racing Team JAS Honda Civic WTCC 17 2:00.830 2.712
9 68 Yann EHRLACHER RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC 16 2:01.047 2.929
10 3 Tom CHILTON Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée WTCC 15 2:01.096 2.978
11 86 Esteban GUERRIERI Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 13 2:01.170 3.052
12 27 John FILIPPI Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée WTCC 16 2:01.809 3.691
13 8 Aurélien PANIS Zengő Motorsport Kft Honda Civic WTCC 12 2:02.312 4.194
14 9 Tom CORONEL ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 6 2:03.147 5.029
15 22 Manuel FERNANDES RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC 11 2:03.903 5.785
16 99 Dániel NAGY Zengő Motorsport Kft Honda Civic WTCC 14 2:06.302 8.184
17 24 Kevin GLEASON RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC 12 2:12.761 14.643
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