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Shane Byrne has pinched the top spot honour in mixed conditions from Howie Mainwaring Smart at Brands Hatch as he launches his defence of the MCE British Superbike title in the best possible style.

The defending BSB champion has the tricky task of overhauling Brookes' 47-point advantage in the title fight but has put himself in prime position after Friday practice by lapping quickest of all in greasy conditions.

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The PBM Kawasaki rider leapt to the top with a late flyer to take P1 off of Mainwaring Smart, while a late improvement by Brookes saw him rise to third overall. Showdown contender James Ellison also challenged the front runners to take fourth place as BSB Riders' Cup favourite Richard Cooper completed the top five.

Brookes' Milwaukee Yamaha team-mate Jakub Smrz enjoyed a productive day in sixth ahead of Tyco BMW's Michael Laverty and wet weather specialist Josh Waters, as John Hopkins and Luke Mossey rounded out the top ten positions.

After the initial shakedown in the opening stages of FP2 title fighters Brookes and Byrne rose to the top with Mainwaring Smart in close company, to become a pattern of the session. The defending BSB champion became the first rider under the 1m 40s mark this weekend as the track grew quicker as the autumn rain relented.

Byrne's time pushed the BSB field to go quicker as Smrz, Cooper and Ellison also ducked into the 1m 39s but under heavy clouds the track failed to produce a clean dry line.

With 15 minutes remaining Brookes, who needs to outscore Byrne by just three points in race one to claim a maiden BSB title, laid down a marker with a 1m 38.971s - over half a second quicker than anybody else.

The Milwaukee Yamaha rider's improvement sparked Mainwaring Smart into action as he found almost a full second to displace Brookes at the top with 10 minutes remaining. Over a sprint finish Ellison jumped to the top by three-tenths until Mainwaring Smart's supreme wet weather speed surfaced as he stormed to the front.

However it wasn't to be for the Quattro Plant Kawasaki rider as defending champion Byrne stole top spot by edging out an extra tenth to end the day quickest.