After a disappointing Jerez, Friday at Le Mans saw Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso return to the form that brought three second places in the opening three rounds.

The Italian was third fastest in terms of best lap time - behind Bradley Smith (Tech 3) and Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) - but was a match for race-pace setter Lorenzo.

Dovizioso set nine laps under 1m 34s compared with eight for Lorenzo, although Dovizioso was using the soft rear tyre (his hardest) rather than the medium compound available to the factory Yamaha and Honda riders.

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"I'm very happy about the start today because the speed is there, which makes a big difference for the work you make during the weekend because you can work on small details for the race and my pace was really good. I had the same pace as Lorenzo," he declared.

"So really happy with the start. For sure it is not enough, we have to improve a little bit, especially the stability of the bike to make 28 laps very consistent. It's more about the exit, because the bike is quite aggressive. Not so linear to manage the spin and it's very difficult in this track for everybody to manage the spin and wheelie. It is something small but sure that makes a difference in the race."

Dovizioso arrives in France fresh from a private test at Mugello.

"Sure the test in Mugello gave me back the good feeling I had with the bike. We don't have a really different bike than Argentina, but in Jerez for the track and the set-up we decided to use, I lost a little bit the feeling," Dovi explained. "In the test in Mugello we understood many things on the bike and the base today was really good. We made the test three days ago, so also this is positive, but it is just another confirm that the bike is good."

Dovizioso still holds second in the world championship, 15 points from Rossi. Asked to assess the relative strengths of the leading machines, Dovizioso reluctantly picked out Yamaha as having the edge.

"Always difficult to answer because with the experience I have, I can say that only when you are on the bike you can understand all the details," he said.

"From the outside, even if you are a rider and understand a lot, nobody can really understand especially the negative points of the other bikes. Because the riders with a big talent can cover the negative points, so it is impossible to understand the details

"Our bike is really good. But I think it looks like Yamaha, if we see the first four races, I believe Yamaha maybe, maybe has an advantage on balance. Maybe. But I believe the Ducati, Yamaha and Honda are very, very close. With different characteristics."