LOUDON, N.H. – It only took a matter of minutes before eyebrows were raised during IZOD IndyCar Series testing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Thursday.
Right out of the box, the cars were running in excess of 160 mph. By the time the day was over, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti was one of three drivers to break the 170 mph barrier, topping the speed charts with a fast lap of 21.566 seconds (171.099 mph) around the flat, 1.058-mile oval.
Franchitti said New Hampshire is the kind of track where you definitely sense how fast you're actually going.
"You sense it, no doubt," said Franchitti, the IndyCar Series points leader and winner of three of the last four series championships. "I was almost flat (footed) through (Turns) 3 and 4, and it got my attention."
Scott Dixon, Franchitti's Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, was second-fastest after the six and a half hours of testing at 170.672 mph. Graham Rahal cracked 170 mph at 170.326 mph.
The top 12 cars that participated were all separated by less than half a second. Even the slowest of the 27 cars on hand for the day – Sebastian Saavedra – was nearly five full seconds faster than Ryan Newman's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series track record set here last month.
"In qualifying, we'll probably be flat (footed)," said Dixon, who won last weekend at Mid-Ohio. "We'll probably be flat after trimming out (for qualifying) and going a little faster."
The IZOD IndyCar Series isn't on-track Friday, but it returns with two practice sessions and qualifying for Sunday's MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 on Saturday.
"(Qualifying) is going to be very important," Franchitti said, noting the racing groove was roughly one and a half lanes wide during testing. "On an oval, it's always important. We'll see if we can continue this form into the weekend.
"When you lift (off the throttle), it's equivalent to braking in other cars. When it does let go – either the front end slides up the race track or the back end slides out – it does happen fairly quickly."
Franchitti, who made a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at New Hampshire in 2008, said he's been happy with the track conditions. The track drew obvious comparisons to Milwaukee, another flat, mile oval where the series competes.
"It's equally good for passing – or difficult for passing," Franchitti said of New Hampshire. "It's suited for both (IndyCars and NASCAR). It seems to suit everything here. Everything seems to race well here."
"With the longer straightaways (at New Hampshire), it feels crazy fast when you enter the corner," Dixon said.
The IndyCar Series last raced at New Hampshire in 1998, when Tony Stewart was victorious. It made a brief return last season before the Sprint Cup Series race in September – when Franchitti took a few hot laps around the track during pre-race ceremonies as part of the track's announcement that the series would return this summer.
"I was just cruising," Franchitti said of his 25-second lap around the speedway.
Even at "cruising speed" he was nearly 20 mph faster than Sprint Cup Series cars. During Thursday's testing, he was some 35 mph faster – and virtually flat-footed through the corners.