The Iron Dog leaders sped through Kaltag and on toward the Bering Sea coast Monday night, and by early Tuesday morning the frontrunners were taking their final northbound layover in Unalakleet before racing to the midway point in Nome.
The top four teams—Teams 10, 17, 8, and 41—arrived into Unalakleet within 12 minutes of each other. In all 13 teams were taking their layover in Unalakleet Monday morning, with the middle of the pack either finishing Kaltag layovers or speeding toward Unalakleet in the pre-dawn hours.
Maintaining their lead into Unalakleet are Mike Morgan and Chris Old. The Team 10 duo, riding their Polaris 600s, who were the first to take their 8-hour layover on the coast at 3:37 a.m. Surviving an engine fire Sunday while pulling into McGrath, the Nome/Eagle River team has consistently held the lead so far in the race. While they’ve boasted impressive split times so far, they may be slowing down: the team had one of the slowest times to Galena out of the leading teams.
But the lead spot into the race’s midway point—and Donlin Gold’s $10,000 “Gold Rush Prize” for the fastest team to Nome—is far from secure.
Just 40 seconds behind Team 10 into Unalakleet was Team 17, defending Iron Dog champs Marc McKenna and Dusty VanMeter on their Ski-Doos. Arguably the most seasoned team in the race, with several first-place finishes between them, the Anchorage/Kasilof team made it to Unalakleet roughly nine minutes faster than race leaders Morgan and Olds. They also shaved six minutes of lead earlier between Ruby and Galena, making up minutes in a race that has in the past been decided by seconds.
Rounding out the top contenders, Team 8 (Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson) and Team 41 (relative newcomers Cory Davis and Ryan Simons) are just minutes behind both the leading teams, and just over ten minutes ahead of the other teams in the top ten.
Six teams have now scratched out of the race. In addition to yesterday’s high-profile withdraw by four-time Iron Dog champion Todd Palin and his Team 11 partner Tyler Huntington, two other teams scratched recently.
Three-time champ Scott Davis and his Team 7 counterpart Aaron Bartel scratched on their way out of Galena. Team 13, Bryce Benson and Josh Norum, scratched into McGrath Monday night.