Reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon paced the first day of the IndyCar Series' road course open test at Barber Motorsports Park as various teams and drivers put in their final preparations before next month's season-opener on the streets of St Petersburg.

The Kiwi bested a 16-car field with a lap of 1min 10.5005secs around the 15-turn, 2.38-mile circuit, which was familiar only to a handful of drivers who had conducted a tyre test there a couple of years ago.

"The team has done a great job, for sure," Dixon noted, "Both [Target Chip Ganassi Racing] cars have definitely got speed, but it was kind of a strange day. We actually spent most of the time in the truck. We set our time earlier in the day, just before lunch, and, this afternoon, we ran around on old tyres just trying a really extreme set-up, and got out on two laps at the end there."

If Dixon's name at the top of the times came as little surprise to those who followed his path to the title in 2008, the presence of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing rookie Robert Doornbos will give observers reason to be optimistic for the coming campaign. The Dutchman was second fastest with a lap of 1min 10.6341secs on his first road course outing with NHLR, building on his European road racing background.

"I was very happy to drive on a circuit that I am familiar with, where I can use my experience in setting the car up to my liking and getting to know the team better, because it's a whole new adventure for me," the former F1 and Champ Car pilot admitted, "This morning, we did only ten laps and the gearbox broke, so we had to wait a couple of hours to get it fixed. We just had to stay focused for the afternoon and make the most of it.

"We had a good set-up and we got the car to my liking and did a quick lap time. I think it's very important to make a good first impression, because the team gave me this chance. They know what I can do. They know that I can win races, and I just need to prove it."

Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan made it three different teams in the top three on the timesheet, taking third ahead of Dixon's new team-mate, IRL returnee Dario Franchitti, while Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe, who had paced the recent oval test at Homestead, was fifth.

"It was a good day overall," the Australian reported, "We felt good about the car's balance, and we were really solid at the end of the day. We're just getting ready for the first race, and worked on the brake package and some general set-up work. We really focused on what the small set-up changes do to the car."

Briscoe's Penske team-mate Will Power, NHLR's Graham Rahal, AGR's Marco Andretti, Dixon's former team-mate Dan Wheldon, now with Panther Racing, and the Dale Coyne-mounted Justin Wilson rounded out the top ten, all of which got to within 0.4645secs of Dixon's quickest lap.

"I've been out of the car for awhile, so it was good to get back into form, and we were pretty satisfied," Power claimed, "We worked away at a number of different things to make the car go faster, and this is a very physical, challenging and technical track. It was good to continue to work with the team and get comfortable. Overall, I think we accomplished what we wanted."

Wilson, meanwhile, admitted that he was looking forward to day two of the test on Monday, having found improvements slow to come on the Coyne car.

"We had our ups and downs trying to shave off time," the Briton revealed, "We started out with a bit of oversteer and brought the set-up closer to where I was comfortable but, unfortunately, we ran out of time just as we were making great progress."

The 16 drivers participating in the test combined to complete 1,085 laps in front of an impressive 10,300-strong crowd after the circuit was thrown open to the public at nominal charge.

"It reminded me of when we used to go to Spain for F1 testing," Briscoe recalled, "We used to draw crowds like this, and it's pretty cool to get a chance to sign autographs and talk to fans in the paddock when it's at a test."

Leading performances - Barber Motorsport Park (22 March 2009):

Scott Dixon Ganassi 1m 10.5005sRobert Doornbos NHLR 1m 10.6341sTony Kanaan AGR 1m 10.6621sDario Franchitti Ganassi 1m 10.6630sRyan Briscoe Penske 1m 10.6937Will Power Penske 1m 10.7772sGraham Rahal NHLR 1m 10.7795sMarco Andretti AGR 1m 10.8921sDan Wheldon Panther 1m 10.8921sJustin Wilson Coyne 1m 10.9079sHideki Mutoh AGR 1m 10.9650sMario Moraes KVRT 1m 11.1491sRaphael Matos Luczo Dragon 1m 11.4496sDanica Patrick AGR 1m 11.4640sMike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold 1m 11.8791sEd Carpenter Vision 1m 12.4355s