Series leader Shane Byrne has kicked off the eighth round of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Knockhill after edging out Leon Haslam by the smallest of margins.

Going fastest in the early stages of the session, Byrne gradually lowered his fastest time to an eventual 49.221secs, although Haslam got remarkably close with his lap of 49.222secs.

With cold and cloudy conditions continuing to frustrate riders after a series of wet and windy rounds, the field was nonetheless closely matched with just a second covering the top 14 positions around the short Scottish circuit.

Behind Byrne and Haslam was Michael Laverty, the Relentless Suzuki rider a mere two hundredths back himself as he bothered the leading riders throughout the session.

That was enough to beat 'man of the moment' Tom Sykes into fourth, while Cal Crutchlow was fifth fastest, although the HM Plant Honda rider took some time to get into his stride as he dabbled in the lower reaches of the top ten initially.

Karl Harris and Michael Rutter got their weekend off to a typically solid start in sixth and seventh, while Leon Camier - who sat out Oulton Park - was a quiet eighth on his return.

Rounding out the top ten was Scott Smart on the best Kawasaki, while Simon Andrews was doing a marvellous job rounding out the top ten just over a week after badly injuring himself ahead of his stillborn World Superbike debut at Brands Hatch.

The session, however, was marred by a heavy crash for John Laverty. The Cup rider fell at Hislops to stop the session briefly, a shame given he was running comfortably inside the top five after 15 minutes. He still ended 11th best and as the best Cup runner.

James Ellison was another to experience a fall, the Oulton Park podium sitter slipping off at the Chicane and taking no further part in the session.

Second free practice takes place later this afternoon.