Accidents and criticism from some of his fellow riders certainly doesn't seem to have slowed Marco Simoncelli down - the Italian setting the second fastest lap time during Friday practice at Le Mans.

The San Carlo Honda Gresini rider, who enjoys factory HRC status, has crashed spectacularly out of the last two races - thwarting his hopes of a debut MotoGP rostrum.

But he got things back on track on Friday, improving from fourth and 0.896sec behind Casey Stoner in FP1, to within 0.404sec of the Repsol rider at the end of FP2, pushing Estoril winner Dani Pedrosa down to third in the process.

"I am happy because we have taken a positive step from the morning to the afternoon," said the Italian. "We have improved [the lap time] by almost a second and that is a lot. It is partly down to improving the set-up but also the fact that this morning I was using a soft front tyre and that is not the best option for me.

"After a quick look at the data we can see that we need to make a small change to improve my confidence under braking, which is the area we struggled most in today. Overall we haven't made a bad start although we will probably have to make some changes related to fuel consumption given that lower temperatures are predicted for tomorrow and Sunday.

"Anyway, I am confident and we have started out on the right foot."

"Another fantastic day of practice for Marco Simoncelli," enthused team manager Fausto Gresini. "He was fast from the start this morning and after making a few changes to the set-up in the afternoon he improved by almost a second."

Team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama was eighth quickest.

"We tried two different bikes today with different set-ups and tried to define a path to follow tomorrow and Sunday," said the Japanese. "We are happy we found the right one and we don't have much more work to do.

"We just need to improve grip and find more stability under braking but we have some ideas. I am confident because the team are working well and we are not too far off the front guys."