The 100th Anniversary of the Indy 500 is scheduled to take place this Sunday. And capitalizing on the occasion was Gerry Gappens, the vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH. He was in the Hub earlier this week at the Fours Restaurant on Canal Street, along with three Indy Car drivers who flew into Logan from Indy, in the effort to set the tone for NHMS’s return to an IZOD Indy Car race to be held there on Sunday, August 14, the date for the Indy Car 225. The fastest open wheel race cars will return to New England after a 13-year absence.

On hand to promote the return engagement was Australian Will Power, now a resident of Charlotte, NC, the center of NASCAR country. Power reflected on his recent qualifying run at Indianapolis, “I expected to be running for the pole but my car wasn’t fast at first. But I’m still happy to be in the second row at Indy (starting fifth).” Will drives the Team Penske Honda and is the point leader in that series after he scored two wins at the Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham and at the Sao Paulo Indy 300. The other Penske cars didn’t qualify as well as Power did. Will thinks that his biggest opposition will come from Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Townsend Bell and Dan Weldon. “I really haven’t thought about winning the 500 but if I did, it would be a big deal,” he said.

In his 39 Indy Car starts, Power has recorded six wins and ten poles and finished second in 2010 in the Indy Car point championship. That was his first full year with the Penske Team. His resume reflects the road racing ladder system starting in Formula Ford where he won the Queensland State Championship before moving onto the Australian Formula 3 Series where he ended up placing runner-up in spite of missing the first four races. Following that, he moved to England and raced in F3 and in the Renault Series. After moving to the U.S. to compete in Champ Cars, Power made his IZOD Indy Car Series debut in 2008, moved to Team Penske in 2009 and returned from a career-threatening injury to nearly claim the series title in 2010. Will said that he is a fitness buff and tries to workout twice a day, six days a week, during which time he either runs, swims or mountain bikes.

Swiss female driving sensation Simona De Silvestro, dubbed the “real deal” by the SPEED Channel’s Robin Miller, crashed her HVM Honda in the second day of Indy 500 qualifying which resulted in two badly charred hands. As a result, at the Fours it wasn’t easy for her to maneuver in order chow down on her New England delicacy, lobster. “The crash was definitely pretty tough mentally on me,” she said. Even though that set her back, she still looked on the bright side. “I was lucky that I qualified the first day, and that put me at ease.” She’s set to start Sunday’s Indy 500 from 23rd place. Simona has no illusions. “It will be tough going for me,” (due to her burned hands). She was doubtful that she’ll be able to run the entire race as of last Monday. But by this coming Sunday, she hopes to be feeling better. Her hands are one of the necessary tools of the trade. Mentioning Danica Patrick, one of the other woman competitors in the race and the most popular, “I don’t feel that I’m in Danica’s shadow.”

Switzerland hasn’t allowed racing since the terrible accident at LeMans, France, in the mid-50’s when an out of control race car slammed into a crowd of spectators and killed and injured many of them. Due to the Swiss ban on motor racing, De Silvestro explained, “In order to race, I had to travel from home to France and Italy. It wasn’t that far. I started racing in karts when I was 6-years old and spent a total of ten years in those racing machines. From there I moved into the Formula Renault and the BMW Series. This is my second year at Indy.” She’s 22 now so that gives her 16 years experience through the open wheel racing ladder system.

Justin Wilson, a Brit, is probably the tallest in the 33-car field at 6′ 4″. He will steer the No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry and acknowledges that being that tall is difficult. “It’s a tight squeeze to get into the narrow cockpit.” Wilson will start the 500 from 19th position. “The 500 is your racing superbowl,” he said. “It’s going to very hard to focus on effort with all of the hoopla. We plan on having a very busy carb day on Friday to iron out all of the bugs and wrinkles of the car. And I really needed that time off after all of the pressure going into the qualifying last weekend.”

Wilson also thinks that the NHMS race will be a tough one for him. Because it’s a flat oval like Milwaukee, he thinks it’ll be hard for him to absorb all of the nuances of the shorter oval tracks. “When you race a big oval like Indy, you get a chance to get set up for the next turn because it’s big. To master the ovals, for me, it’s going to take a big commitment. I spend a lot of time in the iRace Simulators (Milwaukee and New Hampshire) and race a lot of laps in order to be prepared.”

“I’ve been on this circuit since the Champ Car merger with Indy Car,” Wilson said. And who does he expect to set the pace for Sunday’s 500? He thinks it could be “Dario, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, as they have lots of experience at Indy.” Prior to joining the Indy Car circuit, he tried F1, but it was a no go after the first year. In order to get there he made an unusual move – he had to sell investments in himself and, consequently, raised $2 million dollars.

Nevertheless, Wilson’s pre-race strategy will be to stay on the lead lap. “It’s going to come down to experience, and you have to stay out of trouble. If you’re in the lead, you’re in ‘clean air’, and that’s the best place to be,” he revealed. On the physical side, Justin cycles to stay in shape. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, where there’re steep grades in the foothills of the Rockies. He moved from F1 into Indy because everyone else races the same type of car. Because he races for a stock company, he gets a salary, and all of this winnings go to the company for ten years.

“Simona has it tough because of the burns. We talked about it on the flight to Boston,” said Wilson. Wrecks can happen to anyone, and you can lose it into the wall. I’ve had bad ones too. Back when I was 16 years old when I was racing on the sub-circuits, an accident occured. and I kept wondering “why I do this?” (racing). I guess it’s because I like what I’m doing. My family supported me even though we didn’t have a lot of money. This will be my fourth Indy, and two times I crashed out. I started 11th last year and finished seventh. Hopefully, we’ll have a good Indy 500. Will (Power) has the experience and should do well. The Penske and Ganassi cars are all so fast. It’s also too hard to predict what happens at Indy, and nobody can relax.”

One thing is for sure, the field for the New England 101 will have all of the drivers pretty much equal, and the three hopefuls feel good about making the cut in Sunday’s Indy 500 classic. The pressure and focus will be on the top three drivers in the front row. Alex Tagliani from Montreal, Quebec, will steer the Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry from the pole. It’ll be his third Indy 500 and his best ever qualifying effort thus far. Scott Dixon, a New Zealander by way of Australia, has registered 24 Indy Car wins along with an Indy 500 in 2008. Spain’s Oriol Servia has three prior Indy 500’s under his racing harness and will drive a Newman-Hass entry. All things considered, the 100th Indy 500 will be a toss-up, and you have to be around at the finish. It boils down to the fact that the driver who make the least mistakes will win. It also takes some luck.

ABC will air the IZOD Indy Car Series 500 from Indianapolis Motor Speedway from noon to 3:30 p.m.