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Stoner sets Saturday practice pace

Casey Stoner fastest during Saturday free practice for the French MotoGP at Le Mans.
Casey Stoner shrugged off a fall to move ahead of a trio of Yamahas and lead Saturday's final practice session for the French MotoGP at Le Mans.

Stoner - who announced his shock retirement at the end of 2012 on Thursday, then led both of Friday's sessions - lowsided from his Repsol Honda halfway through the 45-minutes, losing the front as he ran over the kerb on the second part of a speedy left-right flick.

The Australian, who leads the standings by one point from Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo, was fifth at the time of his accident. Stoner walked away unhurt and, typically, went straight to the top on his track return with six minutes remaining.

And there he stayed, extending his advantage to half-a-second over Lorenzo - before Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team-mates Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso jumped the Spaniard to take second and third places in the final minute.

Crutchlow - 0.480s from Stoner - joined Lorenzo and Dovizioso in also leading the session, while Alvaro Bautista's strong weekend continued with fifth place (+0.526s) for Honda Gresini.

Unlike Stoner and Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Dovizioso set their best laps of the weekend this morning.

Stoner's factory RCV team-mate Dani Pedrosa was sixth quickest with Valentino Rossi the top Ducati rider in seventh (+0.812s). The Italian, who took his only Desmosedici podium at the same event last year, was the last rider within one-second of Stoner.

Pramac Ducati's Hector Barbera claimed eighth, with Rossi's team-mate Nicky Hayden ninth and Karel Abraham making it four Ducati riders in a row for Cardion AB.

Lorenzo's factory team-mate Ben Spies languished in eleventh place, with rookie Stefan Bradl the final manufacturer rider in twelfth for Honda LCR.

0.9sec from Bradl, home star Randy de Puniet retained 13th place at leading CRT rider for Aspar, but with Gresini's Michele Pirro just 0.277s behind.

Danilo Petrucci, who suffered an engine failure yesterday, fell from his Ioda-Aprilia in the opening minutes on his way to an eventual 16th. But fellow Italian and MotoGP rookie Mattia Pasini didn't return after being spat off his ART machine in a separate incident just moments later.

Chris Vermeulen - riding in his first MotoGP event since 2009, at the scene of his 2007 Suzuki victory - finished final practice in 20th, ahead of the absent Pasini.

The session took place in cold and grey conditions, with rain a constant threat.

Qualifying takes place this afternoon.

Free practice (3):

1. Casey Stoner
2. Cal Crutchlow
3. Andrea Dovizioso
4. Jorge Lorenzo
5. Alvaro Bautista
6. Dani Pedrosa
7. Valentino Rossi
8. Hector Barbera
9. Nicky Hayden
10. Karel Abraham
11. Ben Spies
12. Stefan Bradl
13. Randy De Puniet
14. Michele Pirro
15. Yonny Hernandez
16. Danilo Petrucci
17. Aleix Espargaro
18. James Ellison
19. Ivan Silva
20. Chris Vermeulen
21. Mattia Pasini



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