On the weekend he is likely to be crowned 2011 World Superbike Champion, Carlos Checa began his quest in the best way possible by topping first free practice at Magny-Cours.

The Spaniard needs just a 13th place finish from either race in France to confirm the inevitable, though he insists he will be aiming higher when action gets underway so as to win it in style.

For the moment, Checa set the early pace in FP1 with a 1min 39.013secs lap time, just over a tenth faster than the in-form Tom Sykes on the best of the Kawasakis.

He headed up BMW duo Troy Corser and Leon Haslam, who looked on course for a 1-2 at one stage after a strong brace of late laps, only for Checa and Sykes to sneak ahead before the chequered flag fell.

Jakub Smrz produced the fifth best time for Effenbert-Liberty Ducati, with Eugene Laverty, double Imola podium winner Noriyuki Haga, Joan Lascorz and Sylvain Guintoli completing the top ten.

Imola race winner Jonathan Rea got his weekend off to a quiet start in 11th place, while Leon Camier was 13th and Marco Melandri, the only man capable of denying Checa his likely title, 15th as he gets to grips with the French circuit.

Meanwhile, with a grid of just 19 riders this weekend, Ruben Xaus failed to set a time after crashing on his first flying lap and prompting a red flag period.