Twelve months after dominating proceedings at Kyalami, Ducati gave a hint that it could be the manufacturer to beat once again this year as it hit the front during opening free practice around the South African circuit.

Michel Fabrizio, who twice finished second to Noriyuki Haga at Kyalami last season, was fastest on the factory Xerox bike, the Italian storming to the top of the timesheets with a fast final effort.

It was enough to put him three tenths clear of privateer 1198 rider Jakub Smrz, the Czech also putting in his best showing with a rapid late run.

Despite suggesting the Aprilia is not best suited to the Gauteng circuit, double Monza winner Max Biaggi was also in good form to put the RSV-4 in third position.

In all, only the top five would dip below 1min 40secs with four of the positions being occupied by Ducati riders, Carlos Checa and Shane Byrne shrugging off their disappointing outing at Monza last week to go fourth and fifth.

British trio Jonathan Rea, Cal Crutchlow and Leon Haslam followed in sixth, seventh and eighth, ahead of Max Neukirchner and Noriyuki Haga, last year's double winner slipping back to tenth having featured at the front early on.

Elsewhere, Luca Scassa, the sixth and final Ducati rider - reduced following DFX Corse's decision not to travel to South Africa -, was 11th fastest, marginally ahead of BMW's Troy Corser, the Australian competing at Kyalami for the first time since 2002 this weekend.

Less than a week after landing in hospital following his first corner accident at Monza, James Toseland was a solid 13th on the second Yamaha, just ahead of Tom Sykes on the leading Kawasaki.

Another rider seeing Kyalami for the first time, Leon Camier was 16th fastest, just ahead of 18th place Sheridan Morais, the local favourite less than a tenth behind the Briton as he gets better acquainted with the factory specification RSV-4.