Casey Stoner proved his surprise decision to retire at the end of the 2012 MotoGP season had done little to dim his pace or hunger by going fastest in the opening practice session at Le Mans.
Stoner went clear early on and rarely looked troubled thereafter, and for half the session was almost one second clear of the field. When others, chiefly his Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, did close in, the Australian went back out and lowered his benchmark further, ending the session 0.587sec clear of Pedrosa.
There was a flurry of improvements as the flag fell. Tech 3 Yamaha's Andrea Dovizioso claimed third, while his team-mate Cal Crutchlow simultaneously moved into seventh.
Little more than a quarter of a second separated the pair, but that gap was still enough for three other riders: the two works Yamahas of Ben Spies and Jorge Lorenzo, fourth and sixth respectively, and the Pramac Ducati of Hector Barbera.
Gresini's Alvaro Bautista finished eighth ahead of the two works Ducatis, both of which had run within the top six for much of the session before being bumped down by the late improvements.
Valentino Rossi, who scored his last MotoGP podium at the French circuit last year, finished more than 1.5s down on Stoner but did complete the most laps of any rider.
Aspar's Randy de Puniet was once again the fastest CRT rider in 13th, while Chris Vermeulen – replacing the man de Puniet hit at Estoril, Colin Edwards – made an understandably cautious start, finishing last and outside the 107 percent marker.
Pos Rider Team/Bike Time Gap
1. Casey Stoner Honda 1m34.321s
2. Dani Pedrosa Honda 1m34.908s + 0.587s
3. Andrea Dovizioso Tech 3 Yamaha 1m35.065s + 0.744s
4. Ben Spies Yamaha 1m35.202s + 0.881s
5. Hector Barbera Pramac Ducati 1m35.213s + 0.892s
6. Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 1m35.239s + 0.918s
7. Cal Crutchlow Tech 3 Yamaha 1m35.318s + 0.997s
8. Alvaro Bautista Gresini Honda 1m35.336s + 1.015s
9. Nicky Hayden Ducati 1m35.403s + 1.082s
10. Valentino Rossi Ducati 1m35.829s + 1.508s
11. Karel Abraham Cardion Ducati 1m36.291s + 1.970s
12. Stefan Bradl LCR Honda 1m36.500s + 2.179s
13. Randy de Puniet Aspar Aprilia 1m36.935s + 2.614s
14. Aleix Espargaro Aspar Aprilia 1m37.916s + 3.595s
15. Mattia Pasini Speed Master Aprilia 1m38.140s + 3.819s
16. Yonny Hernandez Avintia FTR-Kawasaki 1m38.209s + 3.888s
17. Michele Pirro Gresini FTR-Honda 1m38.255s + 3.934s
18. James Ellison Paul Bird Aprilia 1m38.943s + 4.622s
19. Danilo Petrucci Ioda-Aprilia 1m39.110s + 4.789s
20. Ivan Silva Avintia Inmotec-Kawasaki 1m39.729s + 5.408s
21. Chris Vermeulen Forward Suter-BMW 1m41.398s + 7.077s