Max Biaggi opened up the latest round of the World Superbike Championship at Brno in style by dominating free practice around the Czech Republic circuit.

The Italian, who scored a podium at last year's event, was in charge from the ten minute mark, his early effort of 2mins 01.375secs staving off the attentions of his rivals for the remainder of the session, despite some quick late laps that got close.

Although still nursing an ankle injury from Donington Park, the Aprilia rider capitalised on a recent test at Brno to eventually finish with a best lap of 2mins 01.353secs.

His closest competition came from John Hopkins, who scaled the timesheets in the latter stages with a lap that got within four hundredths of Biaggi's. The American was also present at a Brno test recently, but he remained 1.4secs quicker than Stiggy Honda team-mate Leon Haslam.

Ben Spies was another to leave it late as he learnt his way around one of the longer circuits on the World Superbike calendar, the title chaser going third quickest.

The American will also be heartened to see Noriyuki Haga, returning to action for the first time since his accident at Donington Park, could only manage the 18th fastest lap as he eases himself back into competition.

Haga's team-mate Michel Fabrizio shadowed Spies in fourth position, ahead of Troy Corser, the Australian proving a consistent top five performer throughout the hour on the BMW.

It was an encouraging session all round for the German manufacturer, with Ruben Xaus not far behind in eighth position, just half a second off the leaders on BMW's first visit to the circuit.

Ryuichi Kiyonari and Carlos Checa filled the void between them in sixth and seventh for Ten Kate Honda, with Yukio Kagayama on the sole Suzuki Alstare Brux in ninth and Lorenzo Lanzi a solid tenth on one of two DFX Ducatis competing this weekend.

Elsewhere, Jonathan Rea was just outside the leading positions in 11th, while Kawasaki showed decent top ten form midway through the session, even if returnee Makoto Tamada and Broc Parkes would end up 12th and 14th respectively.

Even so, that placed them ahead of some more fancied riders, with Shane Byrne 16th and home favourite Jakub Smrz 17th. With Haga in 18th, it has been an inauspicious start to the weekend for Ducati.

Haslam was 19th fastest, with Tom Sykes a disappointing 21st.


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