Dani Pedrosa topped the first MotoGP practice session at Le Mans to get Repsol Honda’s weekend off to a fine start at a track they expected to struggle at.
Pedrosa powered in a late 1’34.042 to snatch top spot from Movistar Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, the Honda rider’s efforts made more impressive by the fact he didn’t use Michelin’s softer rear.
The tyre manufacturers had brought two soft rears to France with them, more or less the same construction as from Jerez but with different compounds making one soft a little less stiff than other.
Despite the obvious advantage seemingly proposed by the softer rear, Pedrosa chose not to use it, with his top lap set on the normal soft sure to give the man from Sabadell plenty of confidence ahead of tougher tests this weekend.
Lorenzo had bossed much of the practice session, becoming the first rider to foray into the 1’34s, as Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi followed him into second midway through the session.
As Lorenzo continued to whittle his lap-times down to the very edge of the 1’34 bracket it looked as if he would start the French Grand Prix weekend top of the pile, but Pedrosa had other ideas.
The Spaniard used all his effort to take the RC213V around the 4.2km circuit, wrestling the machine to make most of Le Mans’ challenging stop-and-go character as he took top with just two minutes remaining.
Behind Lorenzo in third was Pedrosa’s team-mate Marc Marquez, a welcome sight for a Repsol Honda team that struggled for much of the session, with Marquez languishing for a large part.
Andrea Dovizioso was the first of the Ducatis in fourth, with his team-mate Andrea Iannone helping to sandwich Valentino Rossi in fifth.
Pol Espargaro, who had held top spot briefly during the session, finished seventh on the Tech 3 Yamaha, ahead of Suzuki Ecstar’s Maverick Vinales, Loris Baz on the Avintia Ducati and Cal Crutchlow rounded out the top ten for LCR Honda.
Britons Bradley Smith and Scott Redding finished 11th and 14th, respectively as the quality of the session saw the top 14 separated by under a second at the chequered flag.
Eugene Laverty, fresh off the back of some excellent results so far this season, could only muster up enough for 21st place, some 2.4s off the pace although with only 12 laps completed it appeared the Irishman was suffering some kind of issue.