Jonathan Rea has taken an emotional second World Superbike Championship victory of the season after a faultless performance at Imola helped him to soak up immense pressure from Noriyuki Haga.

Rea hit the front of the field on lap five and led to the finish line, but only after being hunted down and challenged by Haga over the second-half of the race, the Japanese rider showing glimpses of his best as he sized up a maiden PATA Aprilia win.

However, while Haga was arguably faster, Rea would spurn his attentions, the Castrol Honda man holding on for a well-deserved win that comes after months of injury rehabilitation.

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Getting away best from the lights, Rea led into the opening bend, though a rushed entry would send him wide on the exit, pushing both himself and Carlos Checa out to the white line and allowing Tom Sykes to sneak ahead.

Stretching the front runners, a gap swiftly emerged between a top five of Sykes, Rea, Checa, Eugene Laverty and Haga, and a chasing pack led by Leon Haslam.

Having broken the lap record on the way to pole position, championship leader Checa was tipped to repeat his double win of 2010 around the Italian circuit, but unusually found himself struggling over the opening laps, with both Haga and Laverty demoting him down the order.

Simultaneously, Rea was up and past Sykes on the run into the final corner chicane at the end of lap five, the Honda rider immediately pulling a margin over his rival as he made an early bid to sprint home.

Now free of Checa, it was Haga that was showing the greatest forward trajectory mid-way into the race, getting onto the tail of Sykes and passing him for second on lap eight before promptly hunting down Rea ahead of him. A series of fast laps would see Haga fulfil his objective by lap fourteen, the PATA rider giving himself seven laps in which to make his bid for the win.

However, try as he might, Haga was at no time able to get even alongside his rival, Rea keeping his lines neat and braking later to resist the constant attentions. It was an effort that was rewarded as he crossed the finish line with a single tenth in hand over Haga, a magnificent return to glory for a rider that has suffered with injuries through much of the 2011 season.

Coming after committing his immediate WSBK future to Honda, the win also signals a remarkable success for the new ride-by-wire system that was originally only fitted to the CBR1000RR as a test for 2012...

Despite missing out on the win, second place still marks Haga's best finish of the season and maintains a good run of recent form for the WSBK legend.

Behind them, the battle for third went down to the final lap with Nurburgring winner Sykes looking on course to seal what would have been only his second podium with the manufacturer. However, despite a dogged defence over the entire second-half of the race, Sykes would fall one lap short to settle for fourth behind Checa.

Though not the win he was hoping for, Checa's third place, coupled to Marco Melandri's fairly average run to eighth, means he has increased his lead to 82 points in the standings.

Behind Sykes, Eugene Laverty had a quiet run to fifth on an otherwise tough start to the day for Yamaha, while Sylvain Guintoli's sixth place lifts him to a new peak of seventh in the overall standings.

His team-mate Jakub Smrz made it a good race for Effenbert-Liberty Ducati in seventh, ahead of Melandri, whose result suffered after an unusually error-strewn performance. Ayrton Badovini and Joan Lascorz completed the top ten positions.

Further back, Mark Aitchison scored a good finish for Pedercini Kawasaki in 11th, ahead of countryman Troy Corser, wild-card duo Federico Sandi and Alessandro Polita, and Leon Camier, who started well, only to run off at the final corner and leave himself playing catch up from the back of the field.

Elsewhere, Leon Haslam suffered a costly crash whilst running in sixth, while Michel Fabrizio was another to fall early on.