Jonathan Rea has kicked off the final round of the 2011 World Superbike Championship with the fastest time in first free practice at Portimao.

Three years on from making his WSBK debut at the Portuguese venue, Rea was one of only two riders to dip below 1min 44secs as he edged out newly-crowned champion Carlos Checa by less than four hundredths of a second.

The Ulsterman comes to Portugal looking to bring a tough season to a satisfying conclusion, though quick turns at Imola and Magny-Cours, coupled to his early pace around Portimao, will give the Castrol Honda rider confidence.

Ayrton Badovini was an impressive third on the BMW Italia, the Italian well ahead of factory BMW riders Leon Haslam and Troy Corser in 14th and 12th respectively, while Tom Sykes began his weekend well on the Kawasaki in fourth.

Sylvain Guintoli rounded out the top five for Effenbert Liberty Ducati, ahead of top Aprilia rider Leon Camier and Yamaha's Eugene Laverty.

Returning to action this weekend after three events out through injury, Max Biaggi was a solid eighth on his return, ahead of Jakub Smrz and Joan Lascorz.

Elsewhere, Superstock 1000 champion Davide Giugliano made a promising start to his WSBK debut on the second Althea Ducati with the 11th best time, while fellow newcomer Santiago Barragan was 22nd and last on the Pedercini Kawasaki.

Series returnees Karl Muggeridge, riding the second Castrol Honda this weekend, and Josh Waters on the Yoshimura Suzuki were 19th and 21st respectively.