Warm temps were a welcome addition to the early stages of the 2023 Pro-Class Iron Dog race. What wasn't as welcome was the flat light the racers faced as they left the starting line.
25 pairs of racers left the starting chute this morning consisting of 15 Polaris, 8 Ski-Doo, and 2 Arctic Cat teams. In the mix are 17 rookies and 5 prior champion racers. With the average age of racers being 35 we saw familiar name Todd Palin (Team 49) at the top end of that scale starting the race at 58 years old and 17 year old Haakon Wold running with his father in Team 41 being the youngest in the field at just 17 years old.
It's no real surprise that after just a few hours of racing the field began to separate, with more familiar names and team numbers creating distance between themselves and other racers. Flat light is one condition that some teams just excel in, notably the veteran teams. Team 10 of Mike Morgan and Chris Olds are no strangers to this and with Morgan growing up in Nome where flat light can be more the norm than anything, it's showing early in their split times. Team 10 is currently in first position out of Nikolai at 4:58pm.
The views from McGrath, looking south, from the weather camera says the teams will be soaking up more of this flat light for a while longer. In flat light, it's sometimes easier to race at night where you can see terrain in the trail caused by shadows from headlights.
Leaving the Rohn checkpoint, 213 miles from the finish line, we were seeing a very tight leaderboard. First and second position saw Team 7 of Tyler Aklestad and Nick Olstad, often referred to as 'The 'Stads' from race fans, having the exact same course time as Team 10 of Mike Morgan and Chris olds.
The same was seen in teams in #3 and #4 position as well with Team 14 of Casey Boylan and Bryan Leslie mirroring the course time of Team 39 of Cody Barber Brett Lapham.
The lighting conditions might have played a little hand in what we saw on the GPS tracker showing Teams 4, 28, and 44 going off course forcing them to come to this realization and backtracking toward the race trail. We typically see this on the western cost of Alaska where teams battle high winds, blowing snow, and more....you guessed it, flat light.
I'm only hearing one report of a team scratching so far. Unofficially as of the Iron Dog leaderboard but 'Facebook Official' reports that Team 33 Lambert/Hensley has been forced from the race. Their page reports that one of the racers was injured and they are headed back toward the start line out of Shell Lake.
Stay tuned for more race coverage and updates!