Factory Ducati riders Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden both finished day one of the French MotoGP a competitive half-a-second behind Honda pace setter Dani Pedrosa.
The pair had approached the French weekend with cautious optimism, believing that the stop-go Le Mans circuit could play to the Desmosedici's strengths.
Fourth and fifth quickest in the morning session turned to seventh (Dovizioso) and eighth (Hayden) in the ultra-close afternoon practice. But the small gap to the top was a welcome boost.
“I'm pleased because we're closer than we have been at the other tracks with our fastest lap, but especially our pace,” said Dovizioso. “I managed to do my best time on the final lap of my long run, which is nice. We're pretty good with the set-up, and although we still have to work on the details, I'm happy to be so close.”
Hayden, who has never finished on the French podium, was less content with his set-up.
“Our lap time was pretty good, but it didn't come easily, so we need to make the bike calmer in order to be more consistent,” said the American.
“We do have some good sections, especially the second sector, but we have to improve on change of direction in the tighter areas. We'll see what the weather does tomorrow; today could well be some of the only dry track time we get before the race.”
Dovizioso and Hayden will be looking to beat their best 2013 race result of seventh on Sunday.
Satellite Pramac Ducati rider Andrea Iannone, returning from arm pump surgery, fell during the afternoon but is now confident his arm is fit enough to last the race.
“Today it was important to understand if I could do the race, especially as we look ahead to Mugello,” he said. “Near the end of the second session, I wanted to try the last changes we'd made to the bike, and we also changed the tyre. I fell, but that's how it goes -fortunately, I wasn't hurt and I'll try again tomorrow.
“Although I'm struggling with my arm and knee, I'll be in the race. I can do it, and I need to understand how the arm is before and after. For the moment, I can say that it has improved, but I'll wait for Sunday to be sure because I'm certainly putting it under some stress.
“Dr. Claudio Costa and the Clinica Mobile are helping me a lot, and removing the stitches helped the knee to feel better so that I immediately went better. I want to and have to improve as quickly as possible tomorrow, and seeing that Nicky and Andrea went pretty well gives me hope.”
Iannone was twelfth quickest, two places ahead of temporary team-mate Michele Pirro.