Dario Franchitti looked firmly in command of Thursday's practice sessions as IndyCar returned to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon for the first time since 1998.

His best time of the day of 21.5665s was just over a tenth of a second off the IndyCar track record set by Andre Ribeiro (now Ana Beatriz's manager) in 1995, even though he maintained that setting fast times hadn't been the priority of the day.

"My first order of business today was to learn the track and the first run felt good," he said. "It is definitely a lot easier to learn a place when the car is doing what you want it to. We worked on the car all day just trying to change some bits and pieces and improve. It was very difficult to find those small gains, but we did reach our goal by the end of the day."

Franchitti led a Ganassi 1-2-3, with Scott Dixon finishing just 0.0539s off his team mate's top time and Graham Rahal in third place. "The car felt good today," Dixon said afterwards. "We struggled at the beginning of the day with a few set-up changes we had to go through."

Marco Andretti had been second fastest in the two and a half hour morning session, but was one of the few drivers not to improve his time in the three hour afternoon session. "The Snapple car was fast this morning but we went the wrong way with some changes this afternoon and lost some speed," he admitted. "I think the track is going to be fun, we just have to get a handle on it."

The KV Racing Technology team was eye-catchingly fast in both sessions and finished with an impressive 4-5-6 lockout behind Ganassi following the afternoon session, with Tony Kanaan showing Takuma Sato and EJ Viso the way.

"We were fast right away and kept improving the car during the afternoon run," said an energised Kanaan. "I think that there are some minor tweaks that we can try on Saturday before qualifying to see if we can get the car a little bit faster, but overall I'm happy with how the day went."

"This track is quite unique, but we were up to speed very quickly and worked on various things," said Sato. "We ran a lot of miles and I learned a lot ... It was a very productive day."

Less happy was the Penske stable which had a subdued day, Ryan Briscoe topping out in 12th place ahead of Helio Castroneves in 16th and title contender Will Power struggling down in 19th in the 27-car field.

"[Our] car still needs a little something," confessed Castroneves. "We made a lot of changes today and we learned a few things. Now we just have to sort through the data and take the next step."

"We ran a lot of laps and went through a long work list," stressed Power. "The Verizon car is alright, but we have some work to do to be on pace with the fast guys. We'll look at the data over the next day and have another shot at it on Saturday."

Briscoe was more upbeat with the state of affairs: "We can definitely improve the car a bit. We just need to find a bit more speed. I feel like I know what we need, now we just need to do some work to get there," he insisted. "It's good to learn a new track. The track feels really nice; it's really fast."

Tomas Scheckter finished the day in 14th place substituting for the injured Justin Wilson in the Dreyer and Reinbold #22. Wilson suffered a stable burst fracture of his fifth thoracic vertebrae last Saturday in practice at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and has been ruled out of the cockpit for three months, meaning he will not return to racing this season.

The only driver to have a major moment during the day's runs was Pippa Mann, making her d?but with Rahal Letterman Racing and appearing in only her second IndyCar race after making her series bow at the Indianapolis 500 in May. She spun at turn 2 during the afternoon and damaged the #30's rear wing and suspension.

"We worked very hard throughout the morning on making the car better and the RLL guys made some really good changes to the car that felt like they were going to help us," she explained. "We found some grip and some stability and were working on gathering speed over the bumps when we had our incident. I am disappointed but I know that the whole team will work very hard to get everything where we need it to be."

Mann - who was celebrating her 28th birthday - was checked by IndyCar medical director Dr. Michael Olinger at the infield care centre and released, with clearance to continue driving.

There will be no IndyCar or Indy Lights practice sessions on Friday, with track time instead being turned over to the American-Canadian Tour and Whelen Modified support series. IndyCar practice resumes on Saturday morning with qualifying in the afternoon.

It's IndyCar's first visit to the one mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway since it ran here under the name of the Indy Racing League from 1996-1998, with Champ Cars running at the venue for the four preceding years. Past winners here in the two series include Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr and Nigel Mansell, with Tony Stewart claiming the last win here before he switched to NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. NASCAR runs races at Loudon every year, with Stewart's current team mate Ryan Newman claiming the last Cup race victory here in July.

Practice times (combined)

1. #10 Dario Franchitti 171.099mph 21.5665s Practice 2 after 118 laps
2. #9 Scott Dixon 170.672mph 21.6204s Practice 2 after 137 laps
3. #38 Graham Rahal 170.326mph 21.6644s Practice 2 after 142 laps
4. #82 Tony Kanaan 169.758mph 21.7368s Practice 2 after 117 laps
5. #5 Takuma Sato 169.489mph 21.7713s Practice 2 after 160 laps
6. #59 EJ Viso 169.466mph 21.7743s Practice 2 after 148 laps
7. #06 James Hinchcliffe 169.141mph 21.8161s Practice 2 after 176 laps
8. #2 Oriol Servia 169.111mph 21.8200s Practice 2 after 162 laps
9. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 169.086mph 21.8232s Practice 2 after 157 laps
10. #83 Charlie Kimball 168.346mph 21.9192s Practice 2 after 128 laps
11. #26 Marco Andretti 168.250mph 21.9316s Practice 1 after 123 laps
12. #6 Ryan Briscoe 167.476mph 22.0330s Practice 2 after 175 laps
13. #27 Mike Conway 167.234mph 22.0649s Practice 2 after 190 laps
14. #22 Tomas Scheckter 166.933mph 22.1047s Practice 2 after 182 laps
15. #19 Alex Lloyd 166.868mph 22.1133s Practice 2 after 159 laps
16. #3 Helio Castroneves 166.685mph 22.1375s Practice 2 after 177 laps
17. #7 Danica Patrick 166.525mph 22.1589s Practice 2 after 169 laps
18. #4 JR Hildebrand 166.382mph 22.1779s Practice 2 after 151 laps
19. #12 Will Power 165.574mph 22.2861s Practice 2 after 162 laps
20. #14 Vitor Meira 165.542mph 22.2904s Practice 2 after 159 laps
21. #77 Alex Tagliani 165.430mph 22.3055s Practice 2 after 146 laps
22. #18 James Jakes 164.551mph 22.4246s Practice 2 after 176 laps
23. #67 Ed Carpenter 162.481mph 22.7104s Practice 2 after 181 laps
24. #24 Ana Beatriz 162.382mph 22.7242s Practice 2 after 140 laps
25. #78 Simona de Silvestro 159.601mph 23.1201s Practice 2 after 159 laps
26. #30 Pippa Mann 158.749mph 23.2442s Practice 1 after 75 laps
27. #34 Sebastian Saavedra 156.105mph 23.6379s Practice 2 after 136 laps

Total Laps for Combined Sessions: 4105