The big word of the 2020 Iron Dog? Change. Almost everything about the longest, toughest race of its kind on the planet is different. The race course is different, the starting/ending venues have swapped locations from prior years, and the race is another nearly 400 miles longer than it has been before. These are significant changes that shouldn't be ignored. Race tactics have to be tweaked, plans have to be thought through differently, and racers have to fight through having a big wrench thrown in the works for the 2020 race.
One of the biggest factors for the course being changed is that the beginning portion of the race is largely flat river running which means high speeds, fast elapsed times, and the racers pushing their sleds through to the halfway point where they then have to finish the latter half of the race which is often wrought with rough terrain and lots of mechanical breakdowns. To back up the statement of 'fast', the leaders have averaged over 86 MPH for the first 170 miles and that included 2 fuel stops on the clock. These are significant speeds for an average when you include two stops.
It was no surprise that when the race flag dropped at 11am today, the typical suspects were making incredible time down the river with many people seeing GPS 'pings' in the triple digits. This fast trail may slow considerably tomorrow as its expected that the visibility will suffer due to 40mph forecasted winds and the early Trail Class teams reporting an immense amount of fresh snow (chest deep and deeper in many cases) on the overland trail between Kaltag and Unalakleet, which will certainly hamper racing speed and also gobble up precious fuel between checkpoints.
Other big news for this year is that some big-name racers have not only swapped to race a different brand of sled, some of the 'household Iron Dog names' have alwo swapped partners. Notably Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson have split along with Todd Minnick and Nick Olstad, who were longtime running mates.
Taking some insights from our annual 'Iron Dog Oracle', Tom W, there are only 2 Arctic Cat teams to enter, very few Ski-Doo teams suspected to finish in the top ranks with only 8 teams entered, and the field is stacked way in Polaris' favor with a whopping 20 teams on the roster. Team 6 (Brad George and Tyson Johnson) and Team 7 (Tyler Aklestad and Nick Olstad) are both very good SkiDoo teams and both have a very good chance to win again this year.
Front runners covered roughly 400 miles today which included 4 fuel stops. The ambient air temperature in Fairbanks this morning was a balmy -32ºF when racers left the starting line, which adds yet another level of difficulty to this endeavor. Tanana race fans were reporting -44ºF to -49ºF degree temps for the racers.
Team 7 Aklestad/Olstad ran the 408 miles today and averaged 78mph. Mind you that all refueling and oiling of the machines, along with any ticky-tack maintenance is done on the clock. Team 39 is second at a 77.25mph elapsed moving average.
A sad development for Team 3 Boney/Unruh came in the form of them having to watch one of their Arctic Cat ZR 6000 R XC 600's burn to the ground after it went up in flames due to over-filling the fuel tank which caught fire. Nobody was injured but Team 3's 2020 Iron Dog has come to and end at the Bible Camp fueling station.
Early problems for Father/Daughter Team 29 Levine/Levine which had to tow back to the start line with engine troubles. Rumblings of ECU issues, but we haven't heard anything concrete on what they were facing early in the race. You can hear Danielle Levine on the video below explaining her issues to someone on her cell phone hoping to get an explanation and some assistance.
Keep up to date with the 2020 Iron Dog coverage here at The Alaska Life.