Jonathan Rea has opened the fourth round of the 2011 World Superbike Championship at Monza with the fastest time after storming to the top of an otherwise close free practice session.
The Northern Irishman, a winner last time out at Assen, leapt to the top of the timesheets with just over ten minutes of the session remaining, the Castrol Honda man's effort of 1min 43.712secs proving more than enough to stave off a series of late improvements from rivals.
Troy Corser was his closest challenger just five hundredths further back, the Australian leading BMW counterpart and the session's surprise front runner Ayrton Badovini.
The BMW Italia rider led a trio of Italian riders, out-pacing Max Biaggi and Marco Melandri, while Leon Camier and Eugene Laverty followed closely in sixth and seventh positions.
Michel Fabrizio bounced back from an earlier crash to set the eighth best time on the sole Suzuki in the field, just ahead of series leader Carlos Checa, who looked capable of defying pre-weekend expectations as he held down the fastest time with 15 minutes to go. Even so, while the Spaniard would drop down to ninth – with a best top speed some 11km/h slower than Biaggi - he remained just a tenth off fourth place Biaggi.
Leon Haslam completed the top ten, edging out Jakub Smrz and the best of the Kawasaki riders, Tom Sykes, the Briton losing out in the late flurry to drop from second to 12th at the chequered flag.
However, there was potential bad news for the manufacturer after Chris Vermeulen – who had been running on the fringes of the top ten – crashed at turn eight. Though he made it back to the pit lane, he has since been taken to the medical centre for further observation.
Another rider battling injury this weekend, James Toseland endured a modest start to his WSBK return down in 21st place, ahead only of the weekend's wild-card rider, Fabrizio Lai on the Echo CRS Honda.