Jonathan Rea has started his 2011 World Superbike campaign as he means to go on by claiming the fastest time in the first test session of the year at Portimao.

Riding the new-look Castrol-backed Ten Kate Honda alongside rivals for the first time, Rea was in charge throughout the lengthy session as he steadily took chunks out of his own personal best.

At one stage commending a 1.6secs gap over his nearest rival, though the margin would be reduced to less than a tenth by the time the chequered flag was thrown, Rea's time of 1min 44.055secs still gave him a significant edge over the vast majority of the field.

Indeed, only Jakub Smrz and Max Biaggi were within striking distance of the Northern Irishman, the former giving the new Effenbert Liberty Ducati team an impressive first official outing, while the latter began his title defence in confident style.

Though four tenths would split Biaggi in third and Michel Fabrizio in fourth, things would prove otherwise relatively close down the 16-strong field.

With nearly each rider enjoying stints towards the head of the field at some stage in the session, Fabrizio would eventually land in fourth position, ahead of Tom Sykes, whose late run to fifth confirmed that Kawasaki will likely be amongst the front runners in 2011.

Ruben Xaus shadowed team-mate Rea early on before settling for sixth, ahead of newly privateer-backed Noriyuki Haga, who was marginally faster than factory Aprilia rider Leon Camier in eighth.

Joan Lascorz was the fastest of the rookies, sneaking into the top ten at the end of the session, just ahead of Superstock graduate Maxime Berger, who was impressive in out pacing fellow Ducati riders Sylvain Guintoli and Carlos Checa.

Outside the top ten, James Toseland was 12th quickest, ahead of team-mate Ayrton Badovini and Eugene Laverty, the trio no doubt looking to improve this afternoon.

A crash early on forced Checa to watch from the sidelines, the Spaniard eventually returning to the track but failing to improve beyond 15th position on the Althea Ducati.

Bringing up the rear, meanwhile, was Marco Melandri, who returns to action after undergoing shoulder surgery towards the end of 2010. Though he was at times was six seconds off the pace, he would lower best to a more respectable 2.5secs off leader Rea.

Those missing from the timesheets include BMW pair Leon Haslam and Troy Corser, who are concentrating on testing in Australia, Chris Vermeulen, who is continuing his recovery from injury, and Pedercini Kawasaki.



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