Reigning seven time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi took until the very last sector of his very last lap to claim first place in Friday's free practice session at Le Mans.

Moments earlier, the Italian had lost third place to countryman Andrea Dovizioso, but after three 'blue' sector times, the Qatar winner found over 0.3sec through the stop-and-go last sector to knock Ducati's Casey Stoner from the top.

A close session ended with Stoner in second by 0.106sec and Rossi's Fiat Yamaha team-mate and 2010 title leader Jorge Lorenzo a mere 0.140sec from the top in third.

Dovizioso was the top Honda rider in fourth place, only 0.223sec from Rossi, after getting the better of team leader Dani Pedrosa.

The Spaniard, who lost out to Lorenzo on the very last lap at Jerez, was almost 0.6sec from Rossi and only a fraction in front of top satellite rider Colin Edwards, of the French-based Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team.

Stoner's team-mate Nicky Hayden recovered from a slow start to take seventh at a track he considers to be his most difficult of the year, with another American - Ben Spies - the lead rookie in eighth place for Tech 3.

The reigning World Superbike champion had never ridden at Le Mans before and was the final rider within one-second of Rossi.

Another rookie, Aleix Espargaro, enjoyed a confidence boosting performance in eighth for Pramac Ducati, with former Le Mans winner Marco Melandri tenth for San Carlo Honda Gresini.

Loris Capirossi made a fast start to the hour but was eventually shuffled back to eleventh for Rizla Suzuki, while rookie team-mate Alvaro Bautista was 17th and last as he tried to ride through the pain of his recent collarbone fracture.

It will be no surprise if Bautista is replaced by test rider Nobuatsu Aoki on Saturday.

Randy de Puniet, the only French rider in the field, was a disappointing 14th for LCR Honda.

Friday practice:

1. Rossi
2. Stoner
3. Lorenzo
4. Dovizioso
5. Pedrosa
6. Edwards
7. Hayden
8. Spies
9. Espargaro
10. Melandri
11. Capirossi
12. Simoncelli
13. Barbera
14. de Puniet
15. Kallio
16. Aoyama
17. Bautista


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