Valentino Rossi made his most competitive start to a 2013 MotoGP by finishing Friday practice at Le Mans just over a tenth of a second from the top - and as the leading Yamaha rider.
The Italian legend, who took a podium on his Yamaha return in Qatar but has been absent from the rostrum in the two races since, was third quickest in both sessions.
However he reduced the gap to Honda's Dani Pedrosa
from 0.293s to 0.138s and was delighted with the set-up decisions for his factory YZR-M1.
“I'm very happy about today. Already from this morning my speed was good, but especially this afternoon we worked well on the bike,” declared Rossi, who has finished on the French GP podium for the past three seasons, including twice for former team Ducati.
“We began with two different settings to understand which way to follow to improve the braking - that was the main problem. I took the setting I preferred with some small modifications and the last run was very good.
“I could brake hard, which was the main problem in Austin and also in Jerez so it's a good day. We tried to modify also the rear to save the tyre and not lose traction in acceleration; that helped me a lot; I did my best laps with a used tyre that had more than 30 laps on.
“I am third but very, very close to the pole position.”
Bad weather is forecast for Saturday, but Rossi would prefer a dry race.
Pedrosa's team-mate Marc Marquez was second quickest and just 0.004s ahead of Rossi. Rossi's team-mate and reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo
was a fraction slower than Rossi in fourth.