Casey Stoner upheld Ducati home honour with a close third place in Friday practice at Mugello, but the three other Desmosedicis were left at the tail end of the field.

Stoner, second to Valentino Rossi in last year's Italian Grand Prix, made several appearances at the top of the timesheets on his way to third place behind championship leader Jorge Lorenzo and the Spaniard's Fiat Yamaha team-mate Rossi.

The Australian was just 0.079sec behind Rossi - winner of the event for the last seven years - and only 0.274sec from Lorenzo.

Stoner used the session to run back-to-back tests between the carbon-fibre swingarm that he has used since the start of the season with the previous aluminium version.

"The idea behind going back to the aluminium swingarm is just in order to see where we can improve more with the carbon version," said the 2007 world champion, who will start Sunday's race level on points with Rossi and just one point behind Lorenzo.

"The carbon swingarm is better in a lot of ways but there is one area we're struggling to find grip with in the turns. So we're using the aluminium one to find out where it is better and why, and then hopefully transfer that across.

"I don't mind riding with one of each because we can do similar lap times so it's not a problem. The only way it affected us today was that we had to make a lot of short runs and do a lot of testing but we're happy with the way things went.

"Today was a case of spending a time learning more about our bike rather than setting it up to race, which we'll focus on tomorrow. Considering how close we are to the top, I think we can be quite confident," he revealed.

The second best GP9 on Friday was that of rookie Niccolo Canepa, who used his test knowledge of the track to claim 14th place at the start of his first home grand prix, with a best lap time 2.175sec slower than Stoner.

"The lap time I registered today at the beginning of the session, when I was in tenth position, I made easily and this gives me a lot of trust for tomorrow and Sunday," said Canepa. "I feel really good on the bike, the track is very nice. Too bad for the fall. Nothing serious anyway. The second bike wasn't in the best condition and we used a lot of time to adjust it at the best, but without too much luck. Tomorrow we will be at the top."

Nicky Hayden, making his Ducati Mugello debut, had languished at the bottom of the timesheets for much of the hour before rising to 15th in the closing stages. Hayden's best lap time, 1min 52.403sec, was 2.259sec from factory team-mate Stoner.

"This is a very different circuit to Le Mans and to be honest I was hoping that coming here, to the track where this bike was born, we would be on the pace," confessed Nicky. "Unfortunately we're not and the truth is we're struggling again - it's pretty demoralising because every track we go to at the moment seems to cause us different kinds of problems. Here the worst thing is the bumpiness of the surface, which is unsettling a bike that can already be quite unstable. It is hard to change direction when the bike isn't planted and that's a big thing here."

Pramac's Mika Kallio, whose eighth places in the first two rounds have been soured by DNFs at the last two events, was 17th and last on Friday, 2.749sec behind Lorenzo's M1.

"For sure the worst beginning of the weekend for us," said the Finn. "During my fourth lap I basically did the same lap time as my best one of the day and this shows that we didn't find the right direction to follow. We have tried many solutions without finding the right one. Really difficult day, during the turns the bike doesn't seem to go where I want and everything was too complicated. Tomorrow we will have to work hard to take a big step forward."

Grupo Francisco Hernando Ducati's Sete Gibernau is not present after fracturing his left collarbone at the French Grand Prix.

Ducati has never won the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello.