Casey Stoner edged out the Yamahas in Saturday morning practice at Le Mans, beating Jorge Lorenzo to the top spot by just 0.015sec.
It was Valentino Rossi on the other Yamaha who was the first of the frontrunners to lead the way early on, before Stoner moved ahead.
The Ducati rider chipped away at his time thereafter and managed to stay ahead even as his main rivals improved their pace too. The hour ended with 0.288s covered Stoner, Lorenzo, Rossi and fourth-placed Dani Pedrosa - as the Honda rider's last lap brought him into contention too.
The session got off to a violent start, with Ben Spies (Tech 3 Yamaha), Alvaro Bautista (Suzuki) and Mika Kallio (Pramac Ducati) all crashing within the first 10 minutes.
Bautista's crash was the most worrying, given that the Spanish rookie is already struggling with severe pain from a collarbone injury sustained in a motocross accident. He had promised to make a decision about his continued participation in the weekend following this practice session, but only completed two laps before a high-side that saw him land arms first and slump in the run-off in clear discomfort afterwards. He spent the rest of the session watching from the Suzuki garage.
Spies needed a trip to the medical centre for precautionary checks following his fall, which appeared innocuous at first until the American noticed pain in his left ankle as he came to rest. Checks revealed that he had suffered contusions rather than any broken bones and he was cleared to return to the track, although he sat out the rest of the morning, as did Kallio following his crash moments later.
That left Aleix Espargaro as Pramac's only representative for much of the session. Under pressure to impress following a disappointing start to 2010, Espargaro held a brilliant fifth for a long while, only losing the spot to Honda's Andrea Dovizioso in the closing moments, and staying ahead of factory Ducati rider Nicky Hayden, who was 0.013s down on the satellite bike in seventh.
The session saw little incident following the early crashes, although Gresini Honda's Marco Simoncelli had a minor fall in the final quarter of an hour.
Pos Rider Team Time Gap
1. Casey Stoner Ducati 1m34.209s
2. Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 1m34.224s + 0.015s
3. Valentino Rossi Yamaha 1m34.451s + 0.242s
4. Dani Pedrosa Honda 1m34.497s + 0.288s
5. Andrea Dovizioso Honda 1m34.538s + 0.329s
6. Aleix Espargaro Pramac Ducati 1m34.957s + 0.748s
7. Nicky Hayden Ducati 1m34.970s + 0.761s
8. Randy de Puniet LCR Honda 1m34.985s + 0.776s
9. Colin Edwards Tech 3 Yamaha 1m35.015s + 0.806s
10. Loris Capirossi Suzuki 1m35.083s + 0.874s
11. Marco Melandri Gresini Honda 1m35.511s + 1.302s
12. Marco Simoncelli Gresini Honda 1m36.010s + 1.801s
13. Hector Barbera Aspar Ducati 1m36.048s + 1.839s
14. Hiroshi Aoyama Interwetten Honda 1m36.175s + 1.966s
15. Mika Kallio Pramac Ducati 1m42.708s + 8.499s
16. Ben Spies Tech 3 Yamaha 1m42.712s + 8.503s
17. Alvaro Bautista Suzuki 1m44.784s + 10.575s