Shane Byrne headed up his MCE British Superbike Championship title rivals in first free practice at Brands Hatch as the riders prepare for a busy 2011 finale.

The HM Plant Honda rider, competing at his home circuit this weekend, is targeting three wins in an effort to improve his title chances, Byrne starting his quest well as he dipped below 1min 26secs.

Even so, he was only 0.008secs up on Swan Yamaha's Michael Laverty, another rider hoping to claw back ground in an effort to keep his fairly slim title dreams alive.

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Meanwhile, Tommy Hill and John Hopkins - favourites for the title this weekend having established a comfortable lead over their rivals in the standings heading into the final event -, were third and sixth fastest respectively, with Josh Brookes and Michael Rutter between them.

James Ellison was seventh fastest on the SMT Honda, ahead of Jon Kirkham, Chris Walker and Ian Lowry, the latter just edging out his MSS Colchester Kawasaki team-mate Gary Mason.

Further back, Graeme Gowland was 12th fastest as the top EVO rider, though only just ahead of Karl Harris, who was a fine 15th best on the unheralded Splitlath Aprilia.

Elsewhere, Ryuichi Kiyonari, who will hand over his BSB title this weekend, had a tough start to the day down in a lowly 26th position.