Carlos Checa maintained a familiar presence at the head of the World Superbike Championship timesheets as he topped first free practice at Donington Park.

The Spaniard, who dominated throughout the WSBK opener at Phillip Island, held the top spot for much of the hour-long session, though it would take a last gasp effort of 1min 29.978secs for him to get back the advantage in the final stages.

Indeed, having relieved Jakub Smrz of his brief challenge mid-session, Checa was then demoted to second position with 15mins to go by Ayrton Badovini, the Italian causing a stir by catapulting from outside the top ten on his BMW Italia to set the pace heading into the final minutes.

While Marco Melandri would then move ahead of his countryman as the chequered flag loomed, Checa would do enough to edge back in front by less than two tenths.

With seven manufacturers inside the top seven, things were particularly close just behind, Jonathan Rea flying the British flag in third, ahead of BMW's Leon Haslam, Kawasaki's Joan Lascorz, Suzuki's Michel Fabrizio and Aprilia's Max Biaggi.

Badovini, who is the sole representative for BMW Italia in the wake of James Toseland's injury, had to settle for eighth, ahead Tom Sykes and Smrz.

Further back, Eugene Laverty and Leon Camier featured towards the front early on but would be bumped back to 12th and 13th at the session's conclusion, while Noriyuki Haga's weekend got off to an inauspicious start after a technical issue on his PATA Aprilia saw him miss the final 20mins.

Twenty riders made it out onto track, including Chris Vermeulen, who completed his first official session since Brno in July 2010, with the 19th best time. He was a respectable 1.8secs off team-mate Sykes's pace.