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Sylvain Guintoli will take the initiative into Superpole at Magny-Cours after setting the pace in third free practice for Aprilia.
The Frenchman moved to the top of the timesheets within the final five minutes after overnight leader Davide Giugliano improved his benchmark by a tenth of a second, Guintoli's time of 1min 37.594secs putting him almost two tenths clear of the opposition.
Giugliano held firm in second position, while Marco Melandri, Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea joined the leaders in the 1min 37secs bracket as the pace improves ahead of this afternoon's Superpole.
Having been second quickest after FP2, Eugene Laverty could only post a marginal improvement to remain sixth, while Leon Haslam – having spent much of the session outside the top ten – would rise to seventh place on the PATA Honda.
By contrast, Loris Baz was the big name rider to miss the automatic SP2 cut in 11th, the local rider unable to improve on his final laps after being displaced by Alex Lowes, impressive wild-card rider Xavi Fores and Chaz Davies.
As such, he will need to qualify for SP2 via SP1, but faces stiff competition from Toni Elias and Fores' fellow 3C Racing Ducati riders Max Neukirchner and Lorenzo Lanzi.
In the EVO class, Niccolo Canepa was fastest again on the Althea Ducati in 14th overall, ahead of David Salom, Sylvain Barrier, Sheridan Morais and Fabien Foret, the latter squeezing into SP2 for his final WSBK appearance this weekend.
Outside the top 20 and therefore with confirmed grid positions, home hope Jeremy Guarnoni – who dominated the SSTK race here last year - was a disappointing 21st, the Frenchman leading Alessandro Andreozzi, Bryan Staring, Geoff May, Aaron Yates, Imre Toth and Gabor Rizmayer.
Wild-card rider Nicolas Salchaud was 28th and last on the Dream Team MV Agusta having failed to make the necessary 107% qualifying limit.