Le Mans - Italian Andrea Dovizioso marked signing a two-year extension with Ducati on Friday by setting a course record on his way to dominating free practice for Sunday's MotoGP at Le Mans.
Dovizioso finished runner-up in the championship to Marc Marquez in what was the Italian's best season to date in Moto GP last year.
It was also the first time Ducati had launched a serious title challenge in Moto GP since the heady days of now-retired Australian ace Casey Stoner.
The Bologna-based outfit announced on Twitter on Friday: "We wanted to let our followers know first that it's official! Andrea Dovizioso extends contract with Ducati for two more years."
The announcement, which extends Dovizioso's deal with the team until the end of 2020, came in timely fashion.
Spanish ace Marquez had earlier powered his Honda to the fastest time, 1min 32.47sec, of the first free practice, where Dovizioso was second at just 0.025sec behind.
After Ducati's announcement, the 32-year-old Italian trumped his Spanish rival's time in 1:31.936. Marquez was second at 0.168 behind with Italian great Valentino Rossi, third on a Yamaha at 0.243.
Dovizioso's fastest lap was 0.39 quicker than the previous record for the Bugatti circuit, set in 2016 by Spain's Jorge Lorenzo.
Dani Pedrosa powered his Honda to eighth place, at 0.53 behind Dovizioso - a creditable performance given the Spaniard is still recovering from a broken wrist, suffered in a crash at the Argentina GP, and was racing with a swollen hip which still needs to be drained following a collision with Lorenzo at Jerez de la Frontera.
Combined times from two free practice sessions:
1. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA/Ducati) 1min 31.936sec,
2. Marc Marquez (ESP/Honda) at 0.168sec,
3. Valentino Rossi (ITA/Yamaha) 0.243,
4. Maverick Vinales (ESP/Yamaha) 0.268,
5. Johann Zarco (FRA/Yamaha Tech3) 0.343,
6. Jack Miller (AUS/Ducati Pramac) 0.366,
7. Pol Espargaro (ESP/KTM) 0.748,
8. Dani Pedrosa (ESP/Honda) 0.530,
9. Aleix Espargaro (ESP/Aprilia) 0.636,
10. Jorge Lorenzo (ESP/Ducati) 0.640
Selected: 11. Cal Crutchlow (GBR/LCR Honda) 0.650,
14. Andrea Iannone (ITA/Suzuki) 0.816