Jorge Lorenzo, winner at Le Mans for the past two seasons, finished Friday practice for this year's event in fifth place, 0.877sec from the front.
On a day when Honda riders - led by Casey Stoner - filled the top three places in both sessions, Yamaha's reigning world champion and 2011 points leader once again stressed that his rivals are much stronger this year.
“As I've said before, this year it's going to be a difficult year. Some of the other riders are much faster than before,” said Lorenzo, who starts round four with a four point lead over Estoril winner Dani Pedrosa. “We're working hard and we are trying a lot of things to improve the bike. We will keep on, we made some improvements over today and I hope tomorrow we will make a step and be a bit faster.”
“We improved a bit from the morning, Jorge was more consistent and a bit faster but for sure he wants more and we do need it,” added team manager Wilco Zeelenberg. “Hopefully tomorrow we can make another step without losing our strong points because at the moment braking on corner entry is quite good.”
Team-mate Ben Spies was just tenth fastest in both sessions, although only 0.317sec slower than Lorenzo.
“I was pretty happy with today, building some confidence back up after the last race in Estoril,” said Spies, who has crashed out of the last two races. “The sessions went pretty well for us we just didn't put in one fast lap. We've been quite consistent with race distance on the tyres and I'm reasonably happy with the bike so if we can make it better for tomorrow I think we'll be up with the front guys.”
We still have some work to do but the balance of Ben's bike is not too far off,” stated team director Massimo Meregalli. “Jorge made clear improvements over the day although they are still looking to find some more agility.”