Casey Stoner was back to his best at Le Mans on Friday, when the round one winner finished practice with a healthy 0.4sec advantage over nearest rival Marco Simoncelli.
The Italian was the only rider within 0.69sec of fellow factory Honda rider Stoner, who is seeking to claw back points lost when he became tangled up in Valentino Rossi's accident during round two at Jerez.
Prior to today, Stoner hadn't led a MotoGP session since the warm-up session for the Spanish race.
"The track has quite good grip and we have a better feeling than in the past few years in this track and we are very happy,” said Stoner, who starts round four 24 points behind Jorge Lorenzo, “we went out this morning and didn't change so much from Portugal as the tracks are pretty similar for us.
“We felt good immediately and then changed a few things and tried something we haven't tested before on the Honda which seemed to give us more traction in the rear without affecting anything else. Every session we do we're trying to modify something to improve the bike.
“I don't know if this is good enough to get pole at the moment as people are able to pull out a very good lap on the soft tyre. Today we are fast but I'm sure tomorrow the others will also be fast.
“At this moment we feel comfortable with the settings, with just a few more adjustments to make tomorrow, hopefully we can stay ahead of the rest".
Stoner's best lap was almost half-a-second under the official race lap record.
Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa, who has moved within four points of title leader Jorge Lorenzo after victory at Estoril, was third fastest on Friday (+0.696sec) - but also the only rider to lap slower in the afternoon session.
"In the morning it was difficult with the cold conditions to find some grip and then in the afternoon the grip got better but we couldn't improve as much as we expected. Anyway we have some ideas and I hope to make a step forward tomorrow,” said Pedrosa, starting his second weekend since collarbone surgery.
“We need to work on the front and rear suspension to get a better feeling, the bike was moving a lot this afternoon entering and at the exit of the corners. We have to keep the momentum and bounce back again because we are doing well, the bike is going very strong and we have to keep focused and work hard".