Carlos Checa emerged as the early pace setter as the annual two-day mid-season World Superbike test got underway at the Imola circuit.

Keen to capitalise on Ten Kate Honda?EUR(TM)s recent upturn in form, the Spaniard was on fine form throughout the session to emerge a comfortable three tenths quicker than home favourite Michel Fabrizio, the Italian flying the flag for Ducati Xerox on his own as team-mate Noriyuki Haga continues to recover from his Donington Park injuries.

Shane Byrne continued his ascension up the World Superbike hierarchy as he set the third quickest time on the Sterilgarda Ducati, ahead of title chaser Ben Spies on the leading Yamaha.

Yukio Kagayama continued to shrug off his ankle injuries with a decent run to fifth quickest, ahead of Misano winner Jonathan Rea and popular Donington Park podium winner Leon Haslam.

Local rider Lorenzo Lanzi was eighth fastest, while BMW?EUR(TM)s Troy Corser and Althea Honda?EUR(TM)s Matthieu Lagrive completed the top ten positions. Corser did, however, stop with a technical problem during the two-hour session.

In all, a total of 22 riders make an appearance at Imola this week for the annual mid-season test, the first time in three years that a Superbike has lapped the revised Italian circuit.

Amongst those making a welcome appearance include Max Neukirchner, who made it out on track for the first time since his horrific accident at Monza in May, one that left him with a broken leg. He was an encouraging 11th quickest on the Alstare Suzuki, 1.7secs off the ultimate pace.

Stiggy Honda?EUR(TM)s John Hopkins was also in attendance having skipped the second race at Donington Park, while Makoto Tamada, who was injured in the same accident as Neukirchner, was back on the Kawasaki.

Elsewhere, Fonsi Nieto returns to WSBK action again on a second DFX Ducati alongside Lanzi, the Spaniard having been confirmed with the team for the upcoming Brno round too.