Citroen’s Jose Maria Lopez deprived Honda of a home victory after taking the lead from Norbert Michelisz into the first corner at Motegi, leading the rest of the way to take his seventh win of the season.
In doing so, Lopez increased the points gap to team-mate Yvan Muller to 74 points with seven races left.
Lopez, Muller and Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini all had great starts, with the Citroen's driver pulling past Michelisz’s Honda from second on the grid to lead into Turn 1, while Tarquini leapt from sixth to third on the first lap.
Muller made his way up from seventh to fourth at the start, while there was early drama for Nicky Catburg, who spun at the back of the field in his Lada Vesta and headed into the pits.
Throughout the last half of the lap, Citroen team-mates Ma Qing Hua and Sebastien Loeb duelled for fifth, running side-by-side throughout the last five turns, with Hua acquiring the position from his effective team boss.
The two ROAL Chevrolets of Tom Coronel and Tom Chilton hit trouble on consecutive laps, both spinning out at Turn 5 and joined Catsburg as retirements.
In the midfield, the drivers on a charge were Lada’s Rob Huff and Honda’s Tiago Monteiro, who eventually ended up fighting each other throughout much of the last half of the race.
Monteiro made a move coming out of Turn 10 on Huff on lap seven and went side-by-side with him down the back straight, but Huff was able to keep the position into Turn 11 to hold on to ninth.
The top three of Lopez, Michelisz and Tarquini continued to pull away from Muller, who fell back towards his Citroen team-mates, with Hua lunging down the inside of the Frenchman at Turn 11 on lap nine.
Muller initially tried for the switchback, but Ma kept the spot into Turn 12 and completed the pass, leaving Muller to defend against Loeb for the remainder of the race.
Huff and Monteiro’s last conquest was Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente, with Huff driving past the French driver for eighth at Turn 1 at the start of lap ten, with Monteiro making his move at Turn 10 to pick up ninth position, leaving Valente to finish tenth.
Nicolas Lapierre finished just outside of the points on his WTCC debut in 11th for Lada, with the privateer Chevrolets of Gregoire Demoustier, John Fillippi and Stefano D’Aste the only other cars to finish the race.
Race 2 is up next with the reversed grid, with Hugo Valente starting on pole position for Campos Chevrolet ahead of Lada’s Nicky Catsburg, with Tiago Monteiro third for Honda.
Neil Hudson / TouringCarTimes