Marc Marquez set a stunning time in Saturday morning MotoGP practice at Le Mans to go half a second clear of the field.
As conditions remained dry, contrary to forecasts, riders immediately pushed for quick times but found it hard to beat Dani Pedrosa's Friday benchmark.
Jorge Lorenzo got within a few fractions of a second and looked set to end practice three on top.
But in the closing moments, Marquez unleashed a string of ultra-rapid laps on his Honda.
Though the first was stymied by traffic in the final corners, there was no hampering Marquez next time around as he beat his rivals by four tenths of a second.
There was more speed to come, and as the chequered flag fell Marquez put in a 1m33.600s, close to the 2012 pole time, and 0.499s faster than Lorenzo's Yamaha.
Pedrosa was 0.083s down on Lorenzo in third on the second Honda.
Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso kept Ducati in the hunt in fourth and sixth, split by the unwell Cal Crutchlow's Tech 3 Yamaha.
Valentino Rossi had a quiet morning and was only ninth.
Bradley Smith was another star of the session as he pushed hard to secure a Q2 spot.
Tech 3's rookie was seventh quickest as he managed to move up to 10th on combined times, pushing Aleix Espargaro outside the Q2 cut.
That means the Pramac Ducatis of Andrea Iannone and Michele Pirro will be the only prototypes in Q1.
Alvaro Bautista looked vulnerable to missing the cut when he crashed at the Dunlop chicane and could not get out on his spare bike in time to defend his position.
But with only Smith able to make major gains, the Gresini driver hung on to his Q2 spot.
Bautista's was one of three late falls in the chicane, with Yonny Hernandez and Hector Barbera doing likewise. All three were unhurt.
Pos Rider Team/Bike Time Gap Laps
1. Marc Marquez Honda 1m33.600s 21
2. Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 1m34.099s + 0.499s 21
3. Dani Pedrosa Honda 1m34.182s + 0.582s 21
4. Nicky Hayden Ducati 1m34.426s + 0.826s 21
5. Cal Crutchlow Tech 3 Yamaha 1m34.467s + 0.867s 21
6. Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 1m34.476s + 0.876s 21
7. Bradley Smith Tech 3 Yamaha 1m34.597s + 0.997s 21
8. Alvaro Bautista Gresini Honda 1m34.786s + 1.186s 15
9. Valentino Rossi Yamaha 1m34.814s + 1.214s 22
10. Stefan Bradl LCR Honda 1m34.990s + 1.390s 22
11. Randy De Puniet Aspar Aprilia 1m35.122s + 1.522s 22
12. Andrea Iannone Pramac Ducati 1m35.243s + 1.643s 18
13. Aleix Espargaro Aspar Aprilia 1m35.507s + 1.907s 18
14. Hector Barbera Avintia FTR 1m35.565s + 1.965s 15
15. Michele Pirro Ducati 1m35.592s + 1.992s 19
16. Claudio Corti Forward FTR 1m36.265s + 2.665s 18
17. Danilo Petrucci Ioda-Suter 1m36.279s + 2.679s 24
18. Colin Edwards Forward FTR 1m36.658s + 3.058s 19
19. Karel Abraham Cardion Aprilia 1m36.784s + 3.184s 19
20. Hiroshi Aoyama Avintia FTR 1m36.866s + 3.266s 20
21. Yonny Hernandez Paul Bird Aprilia 1m37.151s + 3.551s 10
22. Bryan Staring Gresini FTR-Honda 1m37.376s + 3.776s 20
23. Lukas Pesek Ioda-Suter 1m37.693s + 4.093s 18
24. Michael Laverty Paul Bird PBM 1m37.813s + 4.213s 18