Jonathan Rea put a Honda at the top of the World Superbike timesheets for the first time since Monza back in May with a fine performance in first qualifying at Imola.

Rea, who missed several rounds due to a wrist injury and only returned to action at the Nurburgring, has been in fine form aboard the revised Castrol Honda CBR1000RR, this weekend running ride-by-wire technology for the first time following a recent change in the regulations.

Though the move was perceived as a test run ahead of 2012, Rea's 1min 48.241secs lap time will give the Ten Kate-run team plenty of early confidence.

The Ulsterman, who hit the top spot in the final minutes, was just under two tenths quicker than champion-elect Carlos Checa on the Althea Ducati, and a further three tenths up on Leon Haslam, who completed a strong day for BMW in third.

Suzuki's Michel Fabrizio, Yamaha's Marco Melandri and Kawasaki's Tom Sykes, pole sitter at Imola last season, made it six different manufacturers inside the top six to dip below 1min 49secs.

Sylvain Guintoli and Maxime Berger followed up in seventh and eighth, ahead of the top Aprilia rider, PATA Racing's Noriyuki Haga. Jakub Smrz completed the top ten.

With Federico Sandi and Alessandro Polita, two of the three wild-card riders competing this weekend, holding down provisional Superpole entry spots in 11th and 12th, the battle to get into the top sixteen promises to be fierce.

Currently Mark Aitchison and Joan Lascorz are on the bubble in 15th and 16th, ahead of Ruben Xaus, Eugene Laverty and Troy Corser in the danger zone. Matteo Baiocco, Roberto Rolfo and Javier Fores are also facing early elimination if they don't improve during tomorrow's Q2 session.