A shootout up the river. That’s what this race is shaping up to be. With each and every update, Team 10 was still dominating the trail, making tracks that everyone else seemed to be following in. Keeping it clean coming up the river toward Fairbanks would have meant a first place finish for them….along with a sweet $50,000 prize.As of 11:00AM, all but 7 of the racing teams have completed all of their required 50 hours of layover time on the trail. Team 10 of Morgan/Olds appeared to be in 3rd position, but only geographically. They still had a tight grip on the reigns as they were scheduled to depart from Galena just before noon with Team 17 of McKenna/VanMeter sliding out roughly a half hour behind. These teams had plans to charge upriver to hopefully overtake Teams 16 and 23 who chose to take their final 10 hour layover in Ruby. Today proved to be a pivotal juncture in the race as Team 16 of Minnick/Olstad checked into Ruby only 51 minutes after Team 10 checked into Galena.
With 57 miles of frozen river to cover between the checkpoints, Team 10 needed to be running an average of roughly 70 mph or better to pass the Ruby checkpoint before race officials let go of the leash holding onto Team 16 as they prepare to explode up the trail themselves. This…race…is…TIGHT!! We’re shaping up to have a sprint up the river with each of these racers running balls out, nipping at each others heels.
Departure time or Team 10 came and went with no signs of them on the trail. I did receive word that they had to either replace BOTH drive axles in the sleds on-site or that they ran into chaincase issues and that Team 2 was assisting them. Either way, this is going to set them back several miles as the pace on the river is nearing breakneck speed. Team 17 was next to leave Galena and were pinging the GPS well above 70mph pretty consistently. Dusty VanMeter was shown to be travelling near 90mph on many of the updates as well. This is a HUGE shakeup for the front running pack to have Morgan and Olds making repairs like this. This CLEARLY puts Minnick and Olstad in the lead, and gives them even a bit of a buffer to work with.
The new leaders left Ruby, heading upriver at 12:43pm making the longest run between checkpoints in the entire race, 120 miles. In Tanana, racers will take another mandatory layover. This will ensure racers will be at the finish line in Fairbanks at a reasonable time tomorrow afternoon.
Team 18 of Gueco/Zwink was the latest team to have their equipment succumb to the torture of this race. The racers were forced to scratch in Unalakleet due to a suspected ‘S-Module’ failure, which connects to the lower A-Arms of the Ski-Doo snowmobile. That makes for 11 teams that have scratched with 27 still making their way toward Fairbanks for a finish.
While it should have only taken Team 10 about 30 minutes to make their drivetrain repairs, they were still not making updates until they finally made an appearance on the screen about 30 miles outside of Ruby. They, too, were making time while Mike Morgan was clocking in at nearly 84mph. Meanwhile, Team 17 made the 57 mile span between Galena and Ruby in 46 minutes. That averages their speed for the entire distance at just over 74mph. Ruby was but a blip on their radar and they are heading up the Yukon toward Tanana, likely with the throttle all the way to the bar at times. Outside of Ruby they are showing near or above 80mph again. Going slowly is not an option in this race if you intend to win. Depending on how much extra fuel the racers have onboard, the 120 mile span between Ruby and Tanana might be a balance between speed and fuel economy. Walking to the next checkpoint for fuel is never a race-winning option.
Just before 2:00pm, Team 16 was still a ghost on the screen as it appears they might be having some GPS transponder issues as they have not had an update since their 12:43 departure of Ruby. They finally showed up on the stats page as checking into Tanana for their last required layover at 2:25PM. At 2:40pm, Team 17 was about 15 miles outside of the same checkpoint, travelling at just over 70mph, putting them within a half-hours time of the leader.
We mentioned previously about some of the physical bumps and bruises that these racers have endured along the way. The photo below is of Kyle Conner of Team 30 wearing a massive bruise on his right hip at a layover checkpoint along the way. According to his wife, Conner’s bruise was actually caused by him going slowly! He was going over an ice ledge at the time of the incident. Had he been going faster, he would have jumped it and been fine. However, because he was going slow watching some other teams, him and his machine tipped. Conner ended up taking the brunt of the fall for both himself and the sled, which ended up pinning him underneath with the track spinning. It was lucky that several trail class teams saw it and pulled it off him. Guess that’s a day in the life of iron dogger. Team 30 is currently running in position 17.
As racers trickle into Tanana for the final layover, 294 miles of river ice separate them and the finish line. Racers in position 1 and position 2 are only separated by 22 minutes, not hardly any cushion if something were to happen to the front-runners. Teams 10 and 23 are going to likely be in positions 3 and 4 with Team 23 of Quam/Dick followed very closely by the father/son Team 6 of George/George rounding out positions 5 and 6 into Tanana. This entire race has been tight and tomorrows finish is likely going to follow suit. Racers in the back will likely push as hard as they can to make up time on front-runners while the to racers in the lead will try and hold on as the rest of the world-class field chases them to the finish. Stay tuned for tomorrows big finish!