Reigning World Touring Car champion Jose Maria Lopez went fastest of all for Citroen on his last lap in the opening test session in Vila Real
Lopez edged out Honda privateer Norbert Michelisz by 0.814 seconds. He stopped the clock at 2m01.455s, and it is expected that track evolution will enable drivers to go below the two-minute mark on new tyres.
Citroen's simulator had clearly seen much use, since the C-Elysee drivers were fastest by a margin of several seconds in the early laps of the intimidating street circuit, in which the majority of the corners have a blind and/or fast entry.
After a late start the session was red-flagged for nearly 30 minutes while circuit officials installed an additional tyre stack at the Turn 19 chicane.
Under green-flag conditions times tumbled rapidly as the circuit rubbered in, even though the majority of the drivers were running on old tyres.
Sebastien Loeb had been fastest before the red flag but he was soon undercut by Michelisz, then by semi-works Citroen runner Mehdi Bennani.
In the final minutes the championship protagonists improved their times as Michelisz, Yvan Muller and Loeb bumped Bennani downwards, then Lopez administered the coup de grace as the chequered flag flew.
After a slow start the factory Honda Civics established themselves in the second half of the top 10, along with the leading RML Chevrolet of Hugo Valente and the Nika Honda of Argentine Super TC2000 champion Nestor Girolami.
Works Citroen driver Ma Qing Hua closed out the top 10, just over 3.5s off Lopez.
The Lada Vestas of Jaap van Lagen, Rob Huff and Nicky Catsburg were separated by a half-second margin in 12th, 13th and 14th place. AUTOSPORT understands that the Vesta does not have enough steering lock for some of the tighter corners.
The less experienced drivers showed due caution, and John Filippi and Gregoire Demoustier - who is being coached by British Touring Car and WTCC veteran Alain Menu this weekend - propped up the timesheets, seven and nine seconds off the frontrunning pace.
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