Sigma Phi Epsilon won the 2015 Little 500 by an extremely small margin.
Only 0.024 seconds separated them from the Black Key Bulls, who finished second.
After a last-lap sprint to the finish, Sig Ep came away the champion by less than half a wheel length.
This year, Sig Ep tested the margins again, failing to qualify until their third attempt during Qualifications. After faulting on small errors in their first two attempts, Sig Ep had to wait until the early evening to get into the field of 33.
“That long wait was pretty nerve racking,” Sig Ep captain Chris Turi said. “We had to wait around and we all were really tense. We tried to keep relaxed in any way we could.”
Once the late afternoon rolled around, they changed their strategy to make certain they would qualify. They made it into the field at the 22nd position after switching up their exchanges.
The defending champion was in the field, even if it did come down to the last attempt.
Last year’s championship was years in the making for Sig Ep and was the culmination of a lot of hard work.
“Seeing it actually happen was surreal,” Turi said. “We still look back on it and that’s what is motivating us during training this year.”
Winning the championship has given Sig Ep a new sense of energy and infused their training.
They call it the yellow jersey effect, which refers to the color of the jersey they will wear on race day, signifying they won the previous year’s championship.
Yet, even with the yellow jersey, Sig Ep had to reload after losing Nick Torrance, their senior leader from 2015 who rode the last 15 laps of the race, including the final sprint to the finish.
Torrance was the dynamo of last year’s team and each current member said they were confident in his ability going into last year’s race, and put their faith in him.
“Last year, we knew we would be there at the end,” sophomore Charlie Hicks said. “We left it up to Torrance to see what he could do and he brought it home for us.”
But Torrance graduated and a gaping leadership hole emerged.
“Losing our senior leader has allowed some of us to step up and fill that leadership role and that key role on the track,” junior Sam Anderson said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing how that plays out in this year’s race.”
While Sig Ep lost Torrance, they bring back three riders with race experience and knowledge of what it takes to win the race.
Anderson has the most race experience as a junior with two races under his belt. Sophomore Charlie Hicks and senior captain Chris Turi both have competed in one race each.
Anderson was Sig Ep’s top ITT finisher as he finished with a time of 2:27.21, which was good for 21st place.
While they didn’t have any riders inside the top twenty, their depth was shown with seven riders in the top 50.
Last year’s team was defined by the brilliance of Torrance, while this year’s Sig Ep team is defined by the high level of competition throughout their team.
“We inspired a lot of guys to join,” Hicks said. “Repeating would be awesome. We brought in two juniors and two freshmen that are all on board. We are a lot deeper this year.”
Hicks said the chance to repeat has sparked a sense of competition among the riders.
The team of four that will actually race is up for change until only a few days before the race, so each member of the team went through more intense training in a battle for one of the spots.
“That helps a lot from a team dynamic standpoint,” Hicks said. “It’s really critical to have five, six or seven guys fighting for spots and pushing themselves.”
This aspect of their team has allowed their training to be more intense, especially during the monotonous days.
“In a sport where you train all winter inside, it’s easy to get burned out,” Anderson said. “But having that yellow jersey has really kept us motivated to train. Every time we get on our bikes to train, we think about that jersey and defending the title.”
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