Just an hour after riding onto the circuit for the first time, Ben Spies has already established himself as the early man to beat around Assen as the fourth round of the World Superbike Championship got underway with opening free practice.

The American rider has had nothing more than computer games to aid his cause in the run up to the Dutch event, but he wasted no time in getting to grips with the circuit as he emerged a sizeable four tenths up on his nearest rival.

Having made steady progress throughout the session, Spies hit the top spot for the first time with around ten minutes remaining before lowering his best effort to 1min 39.687secs.

That was enough to put him ahead of 2008 podium winners Max Neukirchner and Carlos Checa, the pair leading an otherwise close field of riders, with just a one second covering second down to 13th position.

Leon Haslam's return to Assen began encouragingly with the fourth best time, ahead of Regis Laconi, who had led the way for the first twenty minutes before eventually slipping back to fifth position.

Championship leader Noriyuki Haga was sixth best, with Japanese counterpart Ryuichi Kiyonari slotting in just behind with his strong final effort. Karl Muggeridge, meanwhile, put in his most convincing showing yet this season on the Celani Suzuki to run consistently inside the top ten throughout the hour, the Australian eventually ending up eighth.

Of the Brits, Tom Sykes was ninth fastest, with Jonathan Rea 11th, Shane Byrne 12th and Tommy Hill 18th, while Stuart Easton marked his debut on the factory Kawasaki ZX-10R with a steady run to 26th - just over three seconds off the pace, but only half a second behind team-mate Makoto Tamada.

However, there was disappointment for John Hopkins, who prompted an early red flag period when he crashed just over ten minutes in the session. The Stiggy rider wouldn't return to circuit and was left with the 28th best time.


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