Hundreds of IU students will flock to Bill Armstrong Stadium on Saturday to watch Little 500 teams compete to make the field for next month’s races.
After months of training, 42 men’s teams and 35 women’s teams will attempt to qualify for the 33-team Little 500 fields.
Only the fastest 33 teams qualify for their respective race, leaving 11 teams outside the final field — nine men’s and two women’s teams.
Each team will ride four consecutive laps, with four different riders completing each lap.
The first rider gets a warmup lap and, once he or she crosses the start/finish line, the official timing begins. Every rider must exchange his or her bike to the next rider in a 32-foot gap around the start/finish line.
“What separates the top teams from the other teams is their exchanges,” Little 500 Race Director Jordan Bailey said. “Most teams can ride fast, but a clean and fast exchange is the separating factor.”
For the men, last year’s top qualifying time was 2:23.100 by Wright Quad. The cutoff time last year was 2:34.060.
Reigning champion Sigma Phi Epsilon has qualified in the top four each of the last two years and returns three of its four riders. The rookie to watch out for on their team is junior Pete Arnold.
Sig Ep defeated the Black Key Bulls last year by 0.024 seconds in an intense sprint to the finish. The Black Key Bulls are another favorite to take the top qualifying spot.
The Black Key Bulls won the men’s race in 2014. Xavier Martinez, a state finalist runner in high school, joins the team and is another rookie to pay attention to.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon finished fourth last year and is another team that could have the fastest time Saturday.
The team has a history of difficulties with qualifying as high as they could, qualifying in the top five only once since 2011.
“Sigma Alpha Epsilon is another race favorite, and they have a team of strong athletes,” Bailey said. “However, they are not necessarily known to be good at qualifications.”
Bailey said another team who could qualify in pole position this year is Phi Delta Theta because they have two returning fifth-year riders.
The riders to pay attention to during qualifications are Nicholas Thiery from Cutters, Kyle Knight from Beta Theta Pi and Rob Lee from Phi Delta Theta, Bailey said. All three were in the top-four Individual Time Trials last spring.
Saturday will give a sense of which teams have emerged as potential race favorites and how old champions are looking ahead to April’s race.
On the women’s side, 2014 and 2015 Little 500 winner Kappa Alpha Theta looks to continue dominance after graduating its leading rider, Liz Lieberman. Theta has six team titles, the most in the women’s Little 500 since the race began in 1988. In second place in terms of team titles is Kappa Kappa Gamma, with five.
Last year during qualifications, Melanzana, an independent team, had the top qualifying time of 2:41.47. This will be Melanzana’s fifth year as a team.
Gamma Phi Beta and Kappa Alpha Theta rounded out the top three to officially kick off the 2015 spring season.
Qualification times begin Saturday morning at 8 a.m., beginning with Alpha Chi Omega. Teams continue to race every five minutes, with third attempts scheduled to finish around 6 p.m.
There will be 35 women’s teams competing to qualify in 33 spots for the 2016 Little 5 season.
Thirty-two of the women’s teams participated in practice rounds of qualifications Tuesday and Wednesday in order to prepare for Saturday. Alpha Chi Omega timed in at 2:42.69, the top time so far this year.
Also on Tuesday, Phoenix put up a time good enough for second, followed by Delta Gamma in third. On Wednesday, Alpha Omicron Pi was the top finisher for the day with its time of 2:45.05. Alpha Gamma Delta and Melanzana came in at second and third.
Hailey Hernandez contributed reporting.