The veteran guided his Ducati to the top with a best lap of 1:32.155, although the outing wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Spaniard when he went down as the track temperature reached a massive 51 degrees.
Checa’s crash was relatively harmless, but the main pyrotechnics came from British duo James Toseland (Yamaha) and Shane Byrne (Ducati), who were both savagely highsided from their machines in the same spot at Turn 11. Toseland has a bruised left wrist after his ordeal, but he and Byrne will both be back in action for final qualifying tomorrow.
But today belonged to a resurgent Checa, with the former 500cc GP winner continuing to show strong form on the privateer Althea Ducati after parting ways with the factory Honda equip of 2009.
“I’m satisfied with my effort today,”said Checa. “We have to remember the race will probably produce different weather conditions, but this a very good starting point.
“I would like to thank my team for all its efforts, and I hope “Shakey’ (Byrne) will be fine tomorrow to fight for a good result in qualifying and Superpole”.
Other leading lights to crash in the 60-minute session included Australian star Troy Corser (BMW) and Italy’s Max Biaggi (Aprilia).
Biaggi’s countryman Michel Fabrizio (Ducati) was the second fastest, vaulting up nine spots from this morning’s opening practice session, with the top five completed by the ultra-consistent Leon Haslam (Suzuki), Byrne and reigning world No. 2 Noriyuki Haga (Ducati).
Less than one-second separated the top 10 riders, with Australian Chris Vermeulen (Kawasaki) just outside that window in 12th spot, ahead of his three countrymen – Corser in 16th, Andrew Pitt (BMW) in 17th and Josh Brookes (Honda) in 22nd.
The top 16 riders after tomorrow’s second qualifying session will contest the three-stage Superpole shootout to determine final grid positions for Sunday’s two 22-lap races.
Vermeulen continues to show gradual improvement in every outing on the factory Kawasaki, with his main focus still on fine-tuning his suspension and chassis settings.
“We made some small changes to the bike today and it made a difference,”said Vermeulen. “Today was actually quite difficult to ride, with some wind and the track temperature getting up, which made things a little slippery.
“The edges of the tyres get pretty greasy in those situations, so it’s easy just to push a little bit too hard and go down the road, as we’ve seen today with the number of crashes. Although these things have traction control, they can still throw you down the road!
“But as far as we’re concerned, the bike is becoming more consistent and we’re aiming to improve again tomorrow – but I hope the conditions are a little cooler.”
While Vermeulen’s stocks continue to improve, Corser, a seven-time winner at Phillip Island, is still struggling to find consistent grip on his powerful factory BMW.
“We had some problems with the grip and with the position of the bike in the first session,”said Corser. “We basically changed the settings of the rear shock and the front fork. We also changed the clutch to something we used last year.
“My confidence was better immediately. Still, we lacked grip at the beginning of the second session. Again, we changed the shock setting. The bike then felt easier to control and the grip was better. At the end of qualifying we fitted new race tyres to the bike. I had more grip immediately. I just arrived a little too fast in Turn 10 and lost both front and rear at the same time.”
In world supersport, Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki) completed the opening day on top, and then it was only 0.310secs back to Michele Pirro (Honda) in fifth position.
The logjam also included Eugene Laverty (Honda) in second, ahead of Kenan Sofuoglu (Honda) and Katsuaki Fujiwara (Kawasaki).
First qualifying times:
1 Carlos Checa (Ducati – 7 ) Spain 1m32.155
2. Michel Fabrizio (Ducati -84) Italy 1m32.162
3. Leon Haslam (Suzuki – 91) GBR 1m32.373
4. Shane Byrne – (Ducati – 67)GBR 1m32.635
5. Nori Haga – (Ducati – 41) Italy 1m32.703
6. Max Biaggi – (Aprilia – 3) Italy 1m32.850s
7. Jonathan Rea – (Honda – 65) GBR 1m32.884s
8. Sylvan Guintoli (Suzuki – 50) France 1m32.902s
9. Jakub Smrz (Ducati – 96) Czech Rep 1m32.905s
10. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha – 35) GBR 1m33.038s
12. Chris Vermeulen (Kawasaki – 77) Aust 1m33.389s
16. Troy Corser (BMW – 11) Aust 1m33.512s
17. Andrew Pitt (BMW – 88) Aust 1m33.940s
22. Josh Brookes (Honda – 25) Aust 1m33.463s