With a steady drizzle and mid to high 40’s in temperature covering most of the Mat-Su Valley area, its proving to be the same topic over and over…this ‘non-Alaskan’ weather which is wreaking havoc on the World’s longest snowmobile race.
Early in the race yesterday we saw disabled sleds being towed, early scratches from veteran teams expected to do well, lots of parts damage, and many starts/stops from racers going through The Burn in attempt to keep high temps from melting pistons. That said, the teams who dodged equipment failure DID make very good time through the snowless trail sections despite the start/stop routine they had to endure for over 70 miles.
The Iron Dog facebook page posted a few videos throughout the evening of various checkpoints with issues some of the racers were dealing with. In one clip, Team 41 was stopped in Nikolai where you can hear Ryan Simons asking Cory Davis ‘Can you make it to McGrath like this?’ Davis answers ‘I can try’ and appears to tear off a chunk of either his broken windshield or headlight as they get back on the trail. A second video shows racers packing bags of ice under their seats to help the heat exchangers cool the engine coolant since there is no help from the dirt trail. Racers were also reported chipping ice out of the Post River to pack on their sleds as well.
Lots of interesting stuff happened through the first night of racing. The details aren’t there, but it’s very interesting monitoring the race tracker and watching race duos like Team 16. Minnick/Olstad broke, towed, went back and forth to the Skwentna checkpoint twice, worked on their sleds, then finally got back under way after almost 4 hours of fighting early troubles, as their problems started less than 60 minutes after they left the starting line.
Following a similar lead of early issues, Team 9 Star/Plumb blew a piston just outside of Skwentna where they decided to rebuild the motor and continue on. This took a considerable amount of time which put them traveling through The Burn all night long in the dark.
Team 22 is another interesting story. They stopped for hours upon hours in The Burn. At roughly 2am, they left one of their Arctic Cat snowmobiles in the burn and rode 20 miles to Nikolai. They returned back to the snowmobile at about 4:30am to shortly leave it again and head back toward Nikolai. It’s possible they were towing the immobile equipment as the transponders don’t ping if the motors aren’t running.
Team 39 consists of two rookie racers on Polaris Axys sleds and they are currently in 7th place currently. Reports that the rookie team was taking it easy early on in day 1 and were routinely getting passed on the trail by other teams. They arrived in Rohn in approximately 20th position and made the decision to ‘hammer down’ and let their equipment do what it was designed to do. They blew right through the section of trail riddled with water hazards and The Burn posed minimal issues as well. They did have to stop a few times and let the sleds cool but it was fairly uneventful. They arrived in McGrath with no damage to themselves or their sleds. Team 2 also on Polaris Axys sleds also had a solid run North. Barber/Sottosanti were making very good time through the water and across The Burn until Sottosanti hit a frozen rock about half way through the tortuous burn section. Both right side a-arms and shock were damaged well beyond repair. They limped into Nikolai and got passed by roughly 6 other teams. A flurry of wrenches, hammering, and gnashing of teeth got the parts swapped out quickly as they pounded the trail again, picking up a couple of positions between Nikolai and McGrath. A third video posted shows Sottosanti grimace and grab his ribs indicating he was ‘Trying to pass the girls just outside of Shell Lake’. He indicated it was a pretty good show for the two female racers of Wood/Kidwell (who also broke an a-arm between Rohn and Nikolai). Team 2 was 11th in McGrath and at this time both teams and all sleds look good and are ready to march toward Nome.
Team 7 Davis/Bartel were first through Nikolai springing toward McGrath, a mere 52 miles farther down the trail. McGrath is where it gets really interesting. McGrath poses a 14 hour mandatory layover for the racers and is also the location where times are adjusted for the start. The official race clock started at 10am at the starting line, so times will be adjusted accordingly due to the 2-minute start intervals. Following the arrival of Davis/Bartel at 8:15 last night, Team 20 Faeo/Quam showed up at 8:28 followed by Team 41 Davis/Simons at 8:43, Team 18 Gueco/Zwink at 8:50 and Team 17 Hill/McKenna at 9:05pm to round out the top 5 racers into McGrath for a much needed 8 hour rest. An interesting note is that the top teams are definitely a mix of manufacturer as well with Skidoo, Polaris, and Arctic Cat rounding the ‘podium’ of teams arriving to McGrath. Adjusted for time, however, puts Polaris on the top 3 spots. All 3 scratched teams so far have been Skidoo.
A quick look at the top 10 teams making it 362 miles to McGrath is as follows:
Adjusted for time, the top 5 into McGrath were as follows:
After all of this racing, it appears that the top 10 teams, after 10 hours of intense riding are separated by roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes. The top 2 teams appeared to be separated by a minute. To give another idea of just how fast these Pro Class teams are running, it took many of the Trail Class teams over 11 hours to travel the 74 miles from Rohn through the burn and on to Nikolai. It took team 17 McKenna/Hill a mere 3 hours and 17 minutes.
Rebecca Charles of the Trail Class continues to provide updates via her Facebook page. In the photo below, racers are going to be very happy to encounter these snowy conditions North of McGrath, likely between Ophir and Poorman.
The checkpoint and fueling station at Ophir, along with one of the ‘cabins’, are pictured below. Ophir hasn’t been inhabited for probably 50 years. It was a gold mining community from the 20’s to the 60’s.
The leaders are swapping paint as they leave McGrath on the trail to Poorman. It appeared that Faeo had passed McKenna and Scott Davis appears to have passed Olds. Davis/Simon are racing well but have dropped at least 2 positions because of their delay leaving McGrath. That last checkpoint appears to have claimed its first victim as team Team 31 just scratched. No word on details of the scratch, but suspected dever equipment damage. After departing McGrath, Zwink of Team 18 broke an ‘S-Module’ on his 20150 Ski-Doo MXZ-XRS 600, causing a 2 hour delay. After replacing the module, they are back up and running.
Team 41 also suffered engine troubles as a Facebook posting indicated:
“Back on the trail, they had to rebuild Ryans (Simons) top end….a little over an hour fix, but thats nothing in this race. With good luck they will make that up in no time!”
The weather in McGrath actually appeared to be ‘Winter’ as the ground was covered in snow with sub-freezing temperatures
Team 11 Palin/Huntington is reporting suspension problems. It seems as if they broke the rear upper carrier track tension wheels of their Polaris AXYS sleds. They are about 8 miles north of Ophir right now and they have these parts in a nearby support plane. Iron Dog rules state that planes are only supposed to deliver parts to official Iron Dog Checkpoints and that delivering parts to the side of a trail is a clear violation. This, along with much of the other inormation, is a developing story. We will try to stay up to date on all of this, and more in the updates to come. Keep checking back here for details!