Stoner sets circuit record in Le Mans practice

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The Independent Online

Casey Stoner set the pace in yesterday's free practice sessions for tomorrow's MotoGP French Grand Prix at Le Mans.

The Repsol Honda rider broke the circuit record in the morning and went even quicker in the afternoon, his best lap of one minute 33.782 seconds good enough to hand him an advantage of more than fourth tenths of a second over Marco Simoncelli (Honda Gresini).

Simoncelli's performance for the satellite Honda team saw him outpace factory rider Dani Pedrosa, who had to settle for third place, nearly seven-tenths down on team-mate Stoner.

Nicky Hayden finished as the fastest of the Ducati riders in fourth place, while MotoGP series leader Jorge Lorenzo was down in fifth place, nearly a second off the quickest time, on the factory Yamaha. The third factory Honda of Andrea Dovizioso was sixth, ahead of Colin Edwards (Yamaha Tech 3) and Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda).

Hayden's factory Ducati team-mate Valentino Rossi, who has struggled for pace at the start of the new season, again looked laboured as he finished in ninth place.

Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher said yesterday that he was still motivated to succeed in Formula One despite recent speculation that he had lost his drive in a sport dominated by far younger men.

The rumour mill went into overdrive after last weekend's Turkish Grand Prix, when the 42-year-old told BBC television that the "big joy" had gone. "While I was not happy with my weekend in Turkey, there have been clear signs of improvements for us as a team," the seven-times champion said in a Mercedes GP preview for next week's Spanish Grand Prix.

The German said those improvements "obviously push and re-boost my motivation even more. It's more than encouraging to see that the hard work of the team is starting to pay," he continued.

Schumacher has not stood on the podium since he ended three years in retirement last year.