Tom Sykes maintained what has now become his customary position at the top of the timesheets, finishing top of the first World Superbike qualifying session at Imola.

Sykes is looking to make up for ground he lost in the second race at Portim?o, where a crash on the sighting lap denied him a points scoring finish, and he comfortably finished ahead of his three closest championship rivals.

The Aprilia duo of Sylvain Guintoli and Eugene Laverty finished an uncharacteristic seventh and ninth and with Marco Melandri finishing sixth, Sunday's races may provide an excellent opportunity for Sykes to regain some ground.

As in Friday morning's free practice, his competition came in the form of Jonathan Rea, who finished just 0.112secs behind Sykes and looks determined to maintain his fine Imola record, which saw him clinch a win here in 2011. Michel Fabrizio, determined to impress his home fans, finished third.

Alstare Ducati's struggles were given a timely boost with Ayrton Badovini qualifying a provisional fourth, the highest the Italian has been dry conditions all season. Giugliano, Melandri, Guintoli, Camier, Laverty and Baz completed the top ten.

The session was red flagged after 25 minutes when Loris Baz crashed at speed in the Villeneuve esses. The Frenchman was circulating in ninth before the off sent him tumbling through the gravel at the exit of turn six, and he was later demoted one place. He was taken to the medical centre after complaining of neck pains but his team remain confident he will ride on Saturday.

Noriyuki Haga, returning to the class for the first time since the close of 2011, improved his morning time by 1.7secs but remained in 17th, ahead of


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