Should Casey Stoner fall during Sunday's French Grand Prix at Le Mans, the Australian stands a better chance than before of rejoining the race after being given a stronger set of handlebars.

The Australian, who crashed while leading round one at Qatar and suffered a further fall in practice for round two at Jerez, took the new 'bars to a close second on the Friday practice timesheets at Le Mans, as he split title leading Fiat Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.

"To be honest we had a fairly good session," stated Stoner. " It didn't start off so well because we're trying some new handlebars - we've made them a lot stronger so that if we ever have a small 'off' in a race we've got a better chance of picking the bike up and continuing.

"This has been a problem for us a couple of times in the past and even though the track conditions were perfect today you never know what can happen with the weather at Le Mans! We didn't have the position quite right at the start so we had to spend a little time fixing that but from there on we made gradual progress.

"The initial feeling with the bike wasn't great but it felt better once we stiffened things up both front and rear. Always when you go stiffer you lose a little grip so it was a case of playing around with the rear suspension and tyre pressures to find some traction.

"By the end I felt comfortable and we're satisfied to be in the hunt because we feel this is a circuit that maybe suits some of our rivals more than us," he concluded.

It is not only the Desmosedici that has found Le Mans a tricky track, Stoner's team-mate Nicky Hayden considers it his most difficult of the year and had to work hard to claim seventh, 0.821sec from Rossi.

"For some reason whenever I come to Le Mans nothing comes to me real easy and that was certainly the case for a bit today," said the American. "For the last run the team did a great job, changing a few things with the electronics to get more traction and less pumping and also a change to the rear shock that improved the feeling quite a lot.

"That gave me a half second over the last couple of laps and the feeling was a lot better. We're still a long way from the front group but I definitely feel better after that last run and hopefully we found a direction. I always expect a hard weekend here and this one won't be any different but I'm feeling positive after today."

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