Michel Fabrizio drew first blood as the opening day of testing at Kyalami came to a close, the Ducati rider emerging as the quickest rider of a 15-strong field around the South African circuit.

The Italian, who will start his second season with the factory Xerox team in 2009, hit the top of the timesheets in the latter stages of a session that had run interrupted for eight hours.

His time of 1min 41.204secs was already a tenth beneath the lap record held by Colin Edwards from when the Superbikes last descended on Kyalami.

For some time it looked like his new team-mate Noriyuki Haga would signal his arrival at the Italian outfit in the most convincing fashion, but after suffering three separate falls through the day, the Japanese rider would emerge fourth best.

Ahead of what is anticipated to be an incredibly close season of racing, three different manufacturers filled the top three positions, while newcomers Aprilia and BMW showed they will be a force to be reckoned with as they kept up with the pace.

Behind Fabrizio, hotly tipped rookie Ben Spies was an impressive second best on the Yamaha, the American edging out Max Neukirchner on the Suzuki, even if he was some three tenths down on Fabrizio's best.

Neukirchner's team-mate Yukio Kagayama led the way early on, but while he eventually slipped to fifth, Suzuki will be encouraged with the strong early pace of their K9 GSX-R1000.

Aprilia's Shinya Nakano was also one of the day's stars as he belied his lack of Superbike knowledge in an excellent sixth place. Given how new the RSV-4 still is, the team will be pleased to see Nakano getting to within half a second of Fabrizio's leading pace.

Team-mate Max Biaggi, who missed much of the day after a series of problems with his flight, was just behind in seventh, albeit six tenths off Nakano, but ahead of Ryuichi Kiyonari, who led Ten Kate Honda's fairly quiet challenge. Team-mates Carlos Checa and Jonathan Rea, who collided with Haga early on, were 11th and 12th respectively, but completed just 26 laps between them.

BMW, meanwhile, were a modest ninth and tenth quickest as they completed their first day of group testing. While the team were still 1.7secs off the pace with Troy Corser, it remains an encouraging first effort for the Superbike novices.

Elsewhere, Kenan Sofuoglu and Andrew Pitt were on track for Ten Kate's Supersport team, the Turk edging the recently crowned champion by two thousandths of a second. An ailing Tom Sykes was 15th and slowest after ending his day after just 16 laps through illness.