Alvaro Bautista claimed the fastest lap time by 0.113sec from Hiroshi Aoyama during Friday free practice for the 250cc French Grand Prix at Le Mans.

The rain shower which split the previous MotoGP session had passed by the time the quarter-litre class took to the track for their newly extended one-hour session under bright, sunny skies and on an all-but-dry race track.

Reigning world champion Marco Simoncelli was fastest by the halfway stage of the session, but Bautista - who lost out to Aoyama at the final turn last time out at Jerez - took to the top with 15 minutes to go, then pushed pole almost 0.6sec clear of his nearest rival in the closing minutes.

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However, championship leader Aoyama also mounted a late charge, which took the Team Scot rider to within 0.113sec of Bautista's Aspar Aprilia, with home hero Mike di Meglio (Aspar Aprilia) third.

Hector Barbera dropped from second to fourth in the closing stages, when he also dropped off the track. Simoncelli joined the Pepe World Aprilia rider in tumbling through the gravel after an unrelated incident on his Metis Gilera.

Simoncelli, who desperately needs to regain ground on the title leaders, was fifth fastest, 0.633sec behind Bautista.

2007 125cc world champion Gabor Talmacsi was absent from the session having split from the Aspar-run Balatonring team. The Hungarian's place has already been taken by Angel Rodriguez, who lowsided in the closing stages on his way to 17th position.

Friday practice - Le Mans:

1. Bautista (Aprilia) 1min 39.302sec
2. Aoyama (Honda) +0.113sec
3. di Meglio (Aprilia) +0.199sec
4. Barbera (Aprilia) +0.592sec
5. Simoncelli (Gilera) +0.633sec
6. Luthi (Aprilia) +0.744sec
7. Locatelli (Gilera) +0.966sec
8. Pasini (Aprilia) +1.013sec
9. Debon (Aprilia) +1.191sec
10. Pesek (Aprilia) +1.367sec