Alex Barros may not have spent the opening two races of the 2004 season battling for victory, but the Brazilian has arguably exceeded early season expectations by outracing Repsol Honda team-mate Nicky Hayden.

Barros missed much of the pre-season due to shoulder surgery but, despite being out qualified by Hayden at both Welkom and Jerez, Alex has finished ahead of the American on race day with finishes of fourth and third to his credit (compared with two fifth places for Nicky).

This weekend Barros heads to the venue of his only 2003 podium, Le Mans, with the added boost of having been given a clean bill of health for the first time in over a year.

"Things seem good at the moment," smiled Barros. "My doctor has given me the green card so my condition is clear; I took my first podium for the team at Jerez last week and we are off to Le Mans were I scored my best finish last year.

"We had a good couple of days testing after the GP in Jerez and have sorted out a few things with the set-up of the bike," he added. "The team is really working well and we are all very motivated right now."

Hayden hasn't yet made the progress his many fans expected of him over the winter, but few would dismiss the capability of the former AMA SBK champ this Sunday, despite struggling at the French venue one year ago.

"Last year it was a tough weekend and an even tougher race. We made a bad tyre choice in the race and finished way down. That was last year..." he said. "I'm really looking forward to having a big weekend in France and getting on pace right from the start on Friday morning.

"We had a good test in Jerez after the race last week and tried a whole load of things that should really help over this coming GP. The competition is so tight at the moment that every little thing we can do which gives us the advantage will help," he added.

First qualifying for the French Grand Prix takes place this Friday.