On the weekend he can become World Superbike Champion for the first time, Carlos Checa showed his rivals he intends to do all he can to put the title out of reach at Imola by dominating first free practice.

The Spaniard hit the top 25 minutes into the hour-long session and steadily worked his best down, Checa shrugging off a brief moment when Jonathan Rea surpassed him, to emerge with a 1min 49.294secs lap time.

It was enough to put a three tenth margin between himself and Leon Haslam, who leapt up into second place with his final effort, while Marco Melandri - now the only rider capable of keeping the title race open - going third.

Jakub Smrz was another to make big gains in the latter stages to claim the fourth best time, ahead of Rea, the Ulsterman giving the ride-by-wire Castrol Honda a strong debut in fifth.

Sylvain Guintoli claimed sixth on the second of the Effenbert-Liberty Ducatis, ahead of Michel Fabrizio, Ayrton Badovini, Leon Camier and Eugene Laverty.

Elsewhere, the three wild-cards - Alessandro Polita, Federico Sandi and Matteo Baiocco - proved they will be a potential thorn this weekend by going a solid 12th, 16th and 17th fastest respectively, ahead of Joan Lascorz and Ruben Xaus.

Meanwhile, Javier Fores made his public debut for BMW Italia, the Spaniard slowest of the 22 riders, but just three seconds off the pace.