Althea Ducati got its latest home World Superbike event off to a strong start by locking out the top two positions during first free practice at Imola.

The team's lead rider, Carlos Checa, was quickest of all after a last ditch effort put him less than a tenth ahead of counterpart Shane Byrne.

Checa had held the top spot for the majority of the session after posting a lap of 1min 49.559secs during the opening ten minutes, but was rather surprisingly usurped during the closing stages by Tom Sykes.

Fresh from his top five finish in Germany, the Kawasaki rider swept to the front with ten minutes remaining, but would eventually be bumped down to fifth place by Checa, Byrne, Michel Fabrizio and Jonathan Rea.

Mid-season Imola test pace setter Cal Crutchlow was sixth fastest, ahead of Ruben Xaus, who led BMW's charge in seventh, while Lorenzo Lanzi put his local knowledge to good use to set a solid eighth quickest time for DFX Ducati.

On the weekend he can wrap up the world title, Max Biaggi out paced Leon Haslam in ninth place, the Briton chasing his rival in 11th with Noriyuki Haga splitting them.

Further back, wild-card Federico Sandi bolsters Aprilia ranks in the absence of the injured Leon Camier, while Ian Lowry's Imola debut got off to an auspicious start as he ended the session five seconds off the pace.

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