Noriyuki Haga kicked off the British round of the World Superbike Championship with the fastest time in first free practice at Brands Hatch.

The Japanese rider, reputed as a master of the Kent circuit, is many people's tip for the top the weekend, the Yamaha Italia racer failing to disappoint as he secured the top spot with a lap time of 1min 26.876secs.

Hitting the front of the field at just over the half-way point in the session, Haga's time was enough to usurp long-time pace setter and countryman Ryuichi Kiyonari.

Returning to one of the few circuits on the calendar he knows intimately, Kiyonari had looked comfortable at the head of the table, his early lap of 1min 26.966secs helping him to a very promising start to the weekend.

Xerox Ducati duo Michel Fabrizio and Troy Bayliss built up to their third and fourth best times throughout the session, pushing down Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus, who had been consistently inside the top five throughout the hour. Xaus did experience a small off though.

Tom Sykes showed he will certainly be a force to be reckoned with this weekend as he swept to the seventh fastest time. Proving quick in the early stages on the Rizla Suzuki, Sykes had dropped outside the top ten before a late final effort lifted him up to seventh.

Even more impressive for wild-card Sykes is the fact he was the fastest of the Suzuki contingent, with Fonsi Nieto having to follow him in eighth on the factory-backed Alstare machine.

Karl Muggeridge was a strong ninth as he emerged as the best of the Hondas behind Kiyonari, while Max Biaggi rounded out the top ten after failing to improve on a swift lap in the early stages.

Elsewhere, Carlos Checa seemed to be struggling around a circuit he has never raced on before, the Spaniard well down the order in 17th. Furthermore, with Max Neukirchner 14th too, it has been a tough early start for two of Bayliss' closest competitors.

Chris Walker was solid as he embarked on his World Superbike return riding the Vent-Axia VK Honda in 16th, although the third Brit on the grid, Simon Andrews, completed just six laps on the Lloyds British Yamaha as he wound up 31st and last.


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Yep Nori's gunna chuck it again in race 1, and storm through the feild in race 2 to claim 5th. NORI! NORI! NORI! NORI!