Cal Crutchlow overcame a fall in the opening minutes to lead a soaking wet warm-up session for this afternoon's French MotoGP at Le Mans.

The Englishman, who qualified fifth on the grid in the dry, lowsided from his Monster Yamaha at the first chicane and was forced to return to the Tech 3 pits on foot.

In his absence Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Nicky Hayden exchanged the top spot for most of the session.

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The frantic final stages included Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden running first and second for Ducati, before Crutchlow took over with three minutes to go.

The former World Supersport champion improved his best time on successive laps, keeping him 0.092sec out of reach of Repsol Honda's reigning champion and 2012 points leader Stoner.

Team-mate and Le Mans pole sitter Dani Pedrosa concluded the session in 0.348s from Crutchlow in third, with Rossi (0.443s), Hayden (+0.719s) and Lorenzo (+0.727s) the final riders within one-second of Crutchlow.

Crutchlow's team-mate Andrea Dovizioso, who will start alongside Pedrosa and Stoner on the front row, seventh fastest, with Hector Barbera (Ducati), Karel Abraham (Ducati) and Ben Spies (Yamaha) completing the top ten.

Several CRT riders used the conditions to leap up the order, with Danilo Petrucci claiming eleventh on his normally underpowered Ioda-Aprilia (+2.531s) and James Ellison 13th on his PBM ART.

Forward Racing stand-in Chris Vermeulen, who took his only MotoGP win in similar conditions for Suzuki at Le Mans in 2007, was 18th fastest with (+4.564s) - just behind home hero Randy de Puniet (Aspar) who will start as the top CRT rider on the grid in 13th.

With rain still falling, it will be a surprise if the track dries fully in time for the start of the grand prix.

Warm-up:

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