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Sylvain Guintoli has immediately proven himself as a fitting replacement for retired reigning World Superbike champion Max Biaggi by claiming a superb victory on his Aprilia debut at Phillip Island.

The Frenchman, who started on the second row in sixth place, was in excellent form as he methodically picked his way up the order, assuming the lead from team-mate Eugene Laverty on lap 15 and streaking away to claim his fourth career victory.

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A superb start to the season for 2012 champions Aprilia as it filled every spot on the podium, though Laverty - who had led from the first turn - would lose out to his new team-mate, he would have the minor satisfaction of re-passing Michel Fabrizio with two corners to go to finish in second place, ahead of the Italian.

Indeed, for much of the race it seemed Laverty would be difficult to beat, the Irishman getting the jump at the lights to lead into the opening bend, a margin he would steadily increase as his rivals squabbled behind him.

Initially, Tom Sykes would lead the chase, ahead of pole sitter Carlos Checa, Marco Melandri and Leon Haslam, with Guintoli holding station in sixth at the end of the opening lap.

Showing few signs of the lengthy winter break as they immediately rediscovered their racing spirit, a bout of bar-to-bar racing would see Checa, Haslam and Melandri all repeatedly swap positions over the coming laps.

By lap five, Laverty had increased his lead to 1.3secs over Honda's Haslam, the Briton prompting a few tense moments as he repeatedly rebuffed his rivals into turn one with some aggressive wide lines.

Checa held down third position, ahead of a deposed Sykes, while Guintoli's steady progress was now underway as he rose to fifth at the expense of Melandri.

Guintoli would keep up the momentum over the coming laps, passing Sykes for fourth on lap six, Haslam for third on lap third on lap nine and Checa for second on lap ten.

Behind him, things remained close, but the lead group would be punctured on lap 13 by a spectacular accident involving Checa and Melandri, the latter having just overtaken the 2011 champion moments earlier.

Caused by Checa out-braking himself into the slow turn four hairpin, the Spaniard attempted to avoid Melandri but would clip the BMW in a heavy impact that would send both barrelling out of the race. Though Melandri was unhurt, Checa has been taken to hospital after reportedly being knocked briefly unconscious in the accident. He will not start the second race.

The incident would serve to break up the lead group, with Guintoli released to begin applying the pressure to team-mate Laverty at the head of the field.

Wasting no time in making his move, Guintoli would simply slipstream past into the first turn on lap 15, nosing into a lead he would retain to the chequered flag.

Eventually winning by just over a second, the victory marks the fourth of Guintoli's career, but the first achieved in completely dry conditions having previously won in the damp at Assen, Silverstone and Magny-Cours.

Behind him, Laverty spent the final laps of his race dicing with Michel Fabrizio on the Red Devils Roma RSV4, the Italian staging an impressive fight back up the order after a terrible start dropped him from third on the grid to 11th.

Setting the fastest lap as he stealthily charged his way up the order, Fabrizio would get the better of Laverty on lap 20 with a daring move on the run up to Lukey Heights. However, the Irishman would respond at the bottom of the hill on the final lap to sneak second by a mere 0.007secs to claim second place on an all-Aprilia podium.

Behind them, the fight for fourth would be an engaging tussle as Haslam, Sykes, Chaz Davies and Loris Baz disputed 'best of the rest' status.

In the end, Davies would get the better of his rivals, the Welshman defying an average qualifying performance that left him 12th on the grid to scythe his way up to fourth place on his BMW debut.

Just edging out Sykes, the Kawasaki man can nonetheless be satisfied to score a top five result having dropped as low as eighth place at one stage in the race. Seemingly struggling with his wrist injury as he slipped behind mid-way through the race, Sykes nonetheless battled back into contention to get his title campaign off to a solid start.

Similarly impressive was team-mate Baz, who - like Davies - put in a performance that belied an otherwise average build up to the race, the Frenchman finishing just on the tail of Sykes on his first visit to Phillip Island.

It was a frustrating race for Honda, however, as Haslam couldn't sustain his feisty early form, the Briton dropping from fourth to seventh in the final three laps.

Even so, he fared better than team-mate Jonathan Rea, who spent his race dicing down the order with Leon Camier. Though he would eventually prevail to claim eighth, he will be concerned to be more than 17secs off the leaders by the chequered flag.

With Checa and Melandri's crash, together with an early technical retirement for Davide Giugliano, depleting a 20-strong field, Max Neukirchner was able to claim a welcome top ten result on his WSBK return, ahead of rookie Jules Cluzel on the second of the Suzukis.

In his first WSBK race for seven years, Ivan Clementi was a fine 12th, with Alexander Lundh, Glenn Allerton and Jamie Stauffer completing the points paying positions in 13th, 14th and 15th.