Click here for full WSBK FP1 results from Imola
Chaz Davies has got the Aruba.it Racing Ducati squad smiling at its home event by becoming the early pace setter at Imola after pulling out half a second on his nearest rival Leon Camier.
After a red flag suspension of the first free practice session due to unsafe track conditions, Davies shot to the top of the timesheet where he would remain with consistent gains over the final 20 minutes, while Camier provided the surprise package by beating the chasing pack into second for MV Agusta.
Lorenzo Savadori also made a late jump up the timesheet to take third ahead of double winner at Assen Jonathan Rea to make it four manufacturers holding the top four places.
Italian Davide Giugliano, who claimed pole position at Imola 12 months ago, grabbed fifth ahead of Pata Crescent Yamaha's Sylvain Guintoli with Matteo Baiocco in seventh.
Sykes made a relatively slower start to the weekend in eighth, over a second off of Davies, with Althea BMW duo Markus Reiterberger and Jordi Torres rounding out the top ten.
As the World Superbike grid got up to speed at Imola Sykes headed the early running as the factory Kawasaki and Ducati riders pulled out almost a second on the chasing pack. At the halfway point in the session the riders were forced into the pits by a red flag enforced by track conditions.
After a 20-minute delay to treat the circuit the session was declared green again and after a cautious outlap Davies found immediate gains to pull out two-thirds of a second on Sykes out front.
With Davies continuing to set the opening marker by ducking into the 1m 47s bracket, Pedercini Kawasaki's Lucas Mahias was taken to the medical centre after pitting with just under 10 minutes remaining.
As the session ticked down the late lap time gains duly cranked up and after grabbing his best career result with MV Agusta last time out in fourth, Camier became the surprise closest contender to Davies as he also dipped into the high 1m 47s.
However, Davies duly held on to top spot as the chequered flag fell on the session to lay down a marker to chase for his rivals.