Carlos Checa cut a familiar figure at the top of the timesheets at Phillip Island as he opened up the 2012 World Superbike Championship with the quickest time in first free practice.

The Spaniard, who was second fastest during pre-season testing around the Australian circuit earlier this week, hit the front within ten minutes of the session beginning and held the top spot to the chequered flag 35 minutes later.

Achieving a best lap of 1min 31.973secs, Checa was the only rider to crack 1min 32secs, even if he remained four tenths behind Tom Sykes's leading time from testing.

Max Biaggi maintained close company in second position on the Aprilia, ahead of Liberty Effebert's Jakub Smrz and Sykes, who put the new 'one bike' rule to the test when he crashed early on and was forced to skip much of the session. Nonetheless, despite completing just nine laps - compared to Checa's 21 -, Sykes was still a strong fourth best on the Kawasaki.

A late improvement saw Jonathan Rea move up to fifth place on the Honda, ahead of Smrz's Effenbert team-mates Maxime Berger and Sylvain Guintoli, while Joan Lascorz ensured a positive start for Kawasaki in eighth.

Michel Fabrizio had the honour of lapping as the fastest BMW rider in ninth, comfortably ahead of countryman Marco Melandri in 11th position, the pair split by another Italian, Niccolo Canepa, on the privateer Red Devils Roma Ducati.

Further back, Pedercini Kawasaki stand-in Bryan Staring was the top Australian in 12th place, while Chaz Davies made good strides to bring his ParkinGO MTC Aprilia up to 14th place, ahead of ex-MotoGP racer Hiroshi Aoyama - who also suffered a fall -, Davide Giugliano and top Crescent Fixi Suzuki rider Leon Camier.

Behind them, Eugene Laverty made a tentative return to action on the Aprilia as he tests the strength of his fractured hand. The Irishman managed 16 laps and was just two seconds off the pace in 22nd position.

Missing from the timesheets, however, was Leon Haslam, who watched the practice session unfold from the sidelines. Nonetheless, despite having undergone surgery to have a pin inserted into his injured leg just 24 hours ago, Haslam says he will attempt to ride out in Q1.