Valentino Rossi struck the first psychological blow of the Le Mans weekend as he set the fastest time of the hour-long first free practice on Friday afternoon, taking his Yamaha YZR-M1 prototype round in a best time of 1’34.402 on his final lap of the session.
In blazing sunshine that sent temperatures soaring to 28ºC, the Fiat Yamaha rider was 0.106s faster than Ducati Marlboro rival Casey Stoner, whom he beat to top the timesheets in the dying moments of the session. Current championship leader and last year’s race winner Jorge Lorenzo was third quickest, a mere three-hundredths off Stoner.
Andrea Dovizioso was the fastest Honda of the session as the Italian set the fourth best lap on his factory RC212V, with his time of 1’34.625 a fraction under four-tenths better than his Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa, who completed the top five in the session and was the last rider under the 1’35" barrier.
Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden were sixth and seventh respectively, with Edwards’ Monster Yamaha Tech3 team-mate Ben Spies impressing on his first ride of the French circuit.
The American was the final rider to get within a second of Rossi’s time as he showed an immediate comfort on the asphalt of the technically challenging Le Mans layout.
Aleix Espargaró showed considerable improvement on the Pramac Ducati by setting the ninth best time, with Marco Melandri also putting in a quick final lap to get inside the top ten on board his San Carlo Honda Gresini.
Álvaro Bautista rode through the pain barrier without the aid of painkillers as he completed 19 laps a week to the day after an operation on a broken collarbone. The Spaniard was just over three seconds off the pace of Rossi.
The second practice session for the MotoGP class is scheduled to start at 9.55am local time on Saturday morning.
Jules Cluzel started the weekend exactly as planned by setting the fastest lap of the first Moto2 practice session at Le Mans as he eyes up the first GP win of his career on home soil.
The Forward Racing rider’s lap of 1’39.827 placed him top of the timesheets on board his Suter chassis, just under a tenth of a second ahead of Alex de Angelis. The San Marino rider was impressively quick as he made his track return after missing the last race at Jerez following a crash in warm-up.
Completing the top three was Toni Elías, who is aiming to follow up his victory last time out with another strong result. Elías was 0.278s off Cluzel’s pace, with Sergio Gadea and Fonsi Nieto fourth and fifth fastest respectively and separated by just 0.029s.
Making it five different frame manufacturers inside the top six was Tech3 rider Yuki Takahashi, whilst Julián Simón adapted to his new Suter in super quick time having only tested the Swiss-made frame for the first time last week after the Mapfre Aspar team made the decision to change chassis suppliers.
The Spanish rider was seventh quickest, with Ratthapark Wilairot adding the Bimota name to the top ten as he became the final rider to get within a second of Cluzel.
Pol Espargaró got his bid for a second successive win of the season off to a good start by setting the fastest time in the opening 125cc practice session. A red hot lap of 1’43.908 from the Tuenti Racing rider was over three seconds quicker than last year’s pole position time, which was set by Marc Márquez.
The Red Bull Ajo Motorsport rider was second in the hour-long practice meanwhile, 0.522s off Espargaró’s pace. His effort was admirable as he rides whilst still recovering from an injured shoulder sustained in a crash in the previous round at Jerez.
His team-mate Sandro Cortese followed hot on his heels, whilst Championship leader Nico Terol had to end his session early as a mechanical fault saw him pull up with four minutes remaining. The Spaniard still managed to set the fourth quickest lap of the practice however, but his team-mate Bradley Smith was less fortunate.
The British rider also suffered a problem with his Aprilia that forced him into the garage midway through the session, and he failed to return to the track again as he ended up with the 18th best time after being limited to just nine laps.
Johann Zarco gave the home fans reason for optimism as the Frenchman completed the top five, with Randy Krummenacher, Tomoyoshi Koyama and Esteve Rabat completing the top eight.