Ayrton Badovini cut a surprise figure at the top of the timesheets following first free practice for the second round of the 2012 World Superbike Championship at Imola, the local favourite posting an inspired late charge to set the initial pace.

The Italian was one of the year's standouts aboard the BMW Italia in 2011, but having proved off the pace throughout this season's Phillip Island opener, Badovini looked set to continue his troublesome start as he languished comfortably outside the top ten for much of the FP1 session.

However, the ex-Superstock 1000 champion unexpectedly proceeded to knock more than a second off his best time in the closing two minutes to leap to the head of the table, two tenths up on Sylvain Guintoli on the best of the four Effenbert Liberty Ducatis competing this weekend.

The Frenchman was in turn marginally quicker than 1098R counterpart Carlos Checa on the Althea derivative, while Tom Sykes, fresh from his podium in Australia, overcame a slow start to the session to emerge in fourth place on the Kawasaki.

Early series leader Max Biaggi was fifth quickest on the Aprilia RSV-4, ahead of Jakub Smrz and the impressive Lorenzo Zanetti, the PATA Ducati man producing a good early show on home soil in seventh place.

Well adrift of satellite BMW rider Badovini, Marco Melandri nonetheless led the factory S1000RR charge in eighth, while Honda's Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki's Joan Lascorz rounded out the top ten.

In a session largely devoid of incident, but close on lap times with just one second covered the top 13, Eugene Laverty, Leon Haslam and Chaz Davies, all sufficiently recovered from injuries that hampered their opening weekends, posting the 12th, 15th and 16th quickest times respectively, while Suzuki's Leon Camier split them in 13th.

Also returning from injury, John Hopkins was a cautious 19th as he got to grips with the Imola circuit, while the three newcomers to the grid this weekend - Leandro Mercado (Pedercini Kawasaki), Brett McCormick (Effenbert Liberty Ducati) and Lorenzo Alfonsi (Pro Ride Honda) - brought up the rear in 23rd, 24th and 25th places.