Rain or shine, the men’s Little 500 qualifications are set to begin early Saturday morning at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
The field of 40 men’s teams will compete to qualify for the 33 spots available to race in this year’s 67th running of the Little 500.
There are concerns about the weather conditions this Saturday that could cause poor track conditions. Saturday’s forecast calls for scattered showers and storms with a 60-percent chance of rain.
Race director Andrea Balzano said she is prepared for whatever weather may come.
“As long as there’s not thunder and lightning, we’ll be riding,” Balzano said. “If there’s thunder or lightning within a 10 mile radius we cannot hold activities. If there’s not standing water on the track then we’ll be riding. If our 8 a.m. team has to go at 11 then that’s what we’ll do.”
Balzano and her team of about 60 volunteers from the IU Student Foundation are using this as their first large-scale opportunity to prepare for Little 500. During qualifications, Balzano will depend on her volunteers to help run registration, bike check out, warm up, calling faults, timing and scoring.
“Regardless of what the weather’s like, they’ll be out there just like the riders are,” Balzano said.
Senior Ian Kelly, a third-year rider and captain of the Pi Kappa Alpha team, sees qualifications as an opportunity to improve his team’s starting position from last year but knows not to take qualifications for granted. Last year, Pi Kappa Alpha placed in seventh in qualifications and 16th in Little 500. This year, with all four riders from last year’s race returning, Kelly expects smooth sailing.
“To be 100-percent honest, when you get to a point when you’re trying to be a little bit more competitive in the actual race and qualifications has gone pretty well for you in the past, quals is more of a formality,” Kelly said.
For Kelly and the Pi Kappa Alpha team, earning a starting position near the front is important to avoid a potential early crash. Kelly said many recent races have had early crashes in the middle and back of the pack as teams try to separate from one another.
“If you want to be a competitive team, like we do, it puts you in a compromising position if you have to start at the back and work your way up,” Kelly said. “It makes life much easier if you can start near the front.”
If it does rain Saturday, Kelly said his team will be cautious to avoid sliding but is confident that the track will be well taken care of.
“You gotta ride a little more cautious and do your exchanges a little more cautious but I think the biggest impact is that the times will be slower across the board,” Kelly said. “So what we want is either rain for nobody or rain for everybody, as long as everybody’s on the same playing field it’s not too bad.”
Ultimately, the Pi Kappa Alpha team aims to qualify among the top 11, which would earn them a single colored jersey on race day.
“I don’t think you can take it for granted, you still have to go in expecting that anything can happen, including — god forbid — not qualifying for the race,” Kelly said.