Jonathan Rea got the penultimate round of the World Superbike Championship off to a good start by leading a Honda 1-2 during opening free practice at Magny-Cours.

Keen to put a difficult weekend at Imola firmly behind him, Rea never strayed outside the top ten throughout the hour before putting in a lap time of 1min 39.984secs during the final two minutes to emerge in front.

The only man to dip below 1min 40secs, Rea held a comfortable three tenth margin over Leon Haslam on the sister Stiggy Honda machine, the Briton ignoring the announcement of a financial issue within the team to go second quickest.

Despite the gap between Rea and Haslam, the session was otherwise closely fought, with just one second covering second down to 15th, while nearly the whole field is within two seconds of the Northern Irishman.

It means that while Noriyuki Haga and Ben Spies were four positions apart in third and seventh, their separation of just a single tenth is indicative of a potentially close run thing between the title contenders this weekend.

Carlos Checa made it a good session for Ten Kate Honda by pushing up to fourth late on, just ahead of DFX Ducati's Fonsi Nieto, who held the top spot for more than twenty minutes at one stage. Sporting a new helmet in support of Madrid's 2016 Olympic bid this weekend, Nieto is a two-time podium winner at Magny-Cours, once with Kawasaki in 2007 and again with Suzuki last season.

Imola winner Michel Fabrizio was marginally faster than Spies in sixth, ahead of Max Biaggi and Troy Corser, while a strong final effort from Shane Byrne got him into the bottom end of the top ten.

Elsewhere, Ryuichi Kiyonari was 11th quickest, despite sitting out much of the session following a crash, while Aprilia's new signing Leon Camier was a solid 17th. The newly crowned British Superbike Champion made a series of improvements over the hour as he adapts to the bike and circuit for the first time, Camier ending up a respectable 1.5secs off the ultimate pace.

Other unusual faces this weekend, Sheridan Morais (Kawasaki) and Flavio Gentile (Althea Honda), were 23rd and 26th respectively.