Jack Miller set the fastest time in both practice sessions at Le Mans

Le Mans (France) (AFP) - Jack Miller was fastest in both sessions at Le Mans on Friday, as practice opened for the French MotoGP.

The Australian, in his first season with KTM, followed his third place in the last race in Jerez by starting fast.

He set the quickest time in the morning with a lap of 1min 31.449sec and improved to 1:30.95 late in the afternoon. It was the only time under 1:31 all day.

Miller was 0.119sec faster than Spaniard Aleix Espargaro on an Aprilia with Italian Marco Bezzecchi third at one-fifth of a second on his Mooney Ducati.

Reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia was ninth 0.558sec off the pace but good enough to put him in the top ten, which gives a direct pass into the second qualifying session on Saturday.

He spent part of the second session dodging Marc Marquez, seeking a tow in an attempt to set a top-10 time.

Despite a crash, six-time MotoGP world champion Marquez, still gained the time he wanted late in the session when he tailed Jorge Martin who was shadowing Bagnaia.

The Spaniard is returning after missing three races. He broke his hand in a crash after starting from pole in the season-opener in Portugal. A fifth surgery in three years followed.

On Friday, Marquez slid off on turn nine in the second session. After slithering into the gravel shedding bike parts, Marquez leapt up and slapped his hands together in frustration as he ran towards his Honda. He still recorded a lap that put him eighth, 0.482 seconds behind Miller.

Bagnaia, who rides a factory Honda, won the last race in Spain and holds a 22-point lead in this year’s standings over fellow Italian Bezzecchi.

Bagnaia has a miserable record in France with his best result fourth in four appearances at the circuit. Last year, he crashed after starting from pole position.

French contender Fabio Quartararo could manage the 12th best time on his Yamaha.

The weekend marks motorcycling’s 1,000 grand prix landmark, 74 years after the first feast of speed was staged.

Modern racing machines, backed by the big budgets of A-list manufacturers, are a far cry from the 500cc bike which carried Britain’s Harold Daniell to victory in the first grand prix staged on the streets of the Isle of Man in 1949.

The bespectacled Daniell, who had been barred from fighting in the Second World War due to poor eyesight, claimed victory on a storied Norton machine.

Fast forward to 2023 and the MotoGP series is dominated by manufacturers from Japan, Italy and Austria.