Valentino Rossi trounced the opposition as the checkered flag came out to close the first free practice session for the French MotoGP at Le Mans.
The MotoGP champion spent most of the session almost incognito, running around the classic track third fastest, only to deliver a quite stunning 1m34.402sec when it seemed for all the world like Casey Stoner would take the top spot.
Stoner nevertheless reminded his rivals that Ducati will be a force in this weekend's event by setting a 1m34.508sec lap – a tenth slower than Rossi and just 0.034sec faster than Spanish Grand Prix winner Jorge Lorenzo. The Majorcan looked like he would pick up where he left off in Jerez as he took his FIAT Yamaha to the top of the times for much of the session, until Stoner and then Rossi trumped him late in the race.
Lorenzo's 1m34.698sec pretty much set the mark until Stoner thumped in his lap – proving that the GP10 is a machine much more suited to the French track than some of its predecessors. But Rossi's lap, fast as it was, simply came too late for either of his rivals to respond.
Andrea Dovizioso, one of those riders whose seat is the subject of intense paddock speculation currently, was fourth fastest ahead of his Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa. Colin Edwards showed his usual strong Le Mans form with a late lap to go sixth fastest ahead of Nicky Hayden on the second Ducati. Ben Spies, in his first visit to Le Mans, was eighth. Pol Espargaro was an impressive ninth and former French GP winner Marco Melandri 10th.
It was a reasonably uneventful session, with Hector Barbera the only rider to obviously take to the gravel on his way to 13th position. Question marks remain over Alvaro Bautista's continued involvement in this weekend's event however.
The Spanish Suzuki rider completed 19 laps despite his broken shoulder, but was slowest of all with a lap of 1m37.525sec and had trouble even taking his helmet off when he finally pitted, ashen-faced and clearly in pain. Nobuatsu Aoki remains on standby for the team should Bautista not prove fit enough to continue.
Pos Rider Team Time Gap
1. Valentino Rossi Yamaha 1m34.402s
2. Casey Stoner Ducati 1m34.508s + 0.106s
3. Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 1m34.542s + 0.140s
4. Andrea Dovizioso Honda 1m34.625s + 0.223s
5. Dani Pedrosa Honda 1m34.989s + 0.587s
6. Colin Edwards Tech 3 Yamaha 1m35.089s + 0.687s
7. Nicky Hayden Ducati 1m35.223s + 0.821s
8. Ben Spies Tech 3 Yamaha 1m35.291s + 0.889s
9. Aleix Espargaro Pramac Ducati 1m35.450s + 1.048s
10. Marco Melandri Gresini Honda 1m35.643s + 1.241s
11. Loris Capirossi Suzuki 1m35.685s + 1.283s
12. Marco Simoncelli Gresini Honda 1m35.959s + 1.557s
13. Hector Barbera Aspar Ducati 1m36.009s + 1.607s
14. Randy de Puniet LCR Honda 1m36.086s + 1.684s
15. Mika Kallio Pramac Ducati 1m36.292s + 1.890s
16. Hiroshi Aoyama Interwetten Honda 1m36.798s + 2.396s
17. Alvaro Bautista Suzuki 1m37.525s + 3.123s