One year after a horrific crash left him on a ventilation machine, James Hinchcliffe could complete a phenomenal story by winning the 100th edition of the Indy 500 on Sunday.

The Canadian slammed into a wall during a practice session ahead of last year's race, with a piece of debris piercing his leg as he swerved across the track and leaving him in hospital.

However, Hinchcliffe returned to the track in March, never in doubt that he wanted to recover and continue racing as quickly as possible.

Asked on CTV how long it took him to consider getting back in a car again, he said: "About 34 seconds after I woke up in hospital.

"It was third question I asked when I was in the ICU [intensive care unit]. I was on ventilators, I had a tube in my throat, I had to talk with a pen and a piece of paper, and the third question that I wrote down was, 'When can I get back in a race car?'"

Hinchliffe's story is made all the more sensational by the fact that he will start Sunday at the front of the grid.

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver guided his number five car around the Indianapolis oval with a four-lap average of 230.76 miles per hour, faster than anyone else in the field.

On the site where he nearly lost his life in May 2015, it was a special occasion for the Canadian.

"It's tough not to be feeling pretty good. Last weekend's result was a huge effort by the whole team – these cars are tough to build to go almost 400 kilometres per hour in qualifying," Hinchcliffe added.

"All the stars aligned to get the car on pole and after what we went through last year at his race track is definitely a very special deal."

Josef Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay join Hinchcliffe on the front row, but he will meet competition over the 500 miles from drivers further down the field too.

Simon Pagenaud has already won three races this season and will be hoping to add the most prestigious title to his efforts so far.

Former Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya, meanwhile, will be looking to make it back-to-back triumphs.

The Colombian finished first despite qualifying 15th in 2015, so he will be expected to challenge despite starting two places further back this year.

Scott Dixon, a winner in 2008, led for 84 laps in the previous edition and will start from 13th, while Gabby Chaves – the 2015 Rookie of the Year – will begin on the seventh row.