Germany’s Max Neukirchner, buoyed by his second-place ranking in the World Superbike Championship, gunned his Alstare Suzuki round the Losail circuit in 2m 0.486s to lead the first free practice session in the second round at Qatar.
But the man who everyone is watching, American newcomer Ben Spies, was only fractionally slower on his Yamaha R1 in 2m 0.514s.
Jonathan Rea led the charge of five WSB Brits by gunning his Ten Kate Honda into third place with a lap in 2m 0.676s.
First-day testing is a notoriously unpredictable guide to race-day results, but it must be encouraging to Aprilia to see former MotoGP rider Shinya Nakano using his knowledge of the desert circuit to get the new V4 round seventh fastest, only 0.676s slower than the leader.
The rest of the Brits? Tom Sykes was 10th fastest on his R1, Shane Byrne rolled his Sterilgarda Ducati round in 11th place, Leon Haslam was 13th fastest on his Stiggy Honda, and Tommy Hill was 19th best of 28 runners on his Altea Honda.
Max Biaggi was 16th fastest on the other Aprilia. The other new bike in the series, the four-cylinder BMW S1000RR, opened the weekend well with Troy Corser eighth fastest in 2m 1.234s. Team-mate Ruben Xaus was 20th fastest.