The first-half leaders of the 2,000-mile Iron Dog snowmachine race encountered serious mechanical woes Thursday between White Mountain and Koyuk on the Seward Peninsula, dropping them all the way to ninth place as race turned toward the Fairbanks finish line.
Nick Olstad and Todd Minnick of Wasilla left Nome at 8:02 a.m. Thursday, just a couple of ticks behind defending champions Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson. But on the 95-mile run from White Mountain to Koyuk, their average speed dipped to 25 mph. Johnson and Aklestad covered the same stretch at 44 mph, and shortly thereafter revved it up to 67 mph.
By sunset, the defending champs were in the middle of a 10-hour layover in Kaltag.
Iron Dog executive director Kevin Kastner said he didn't know the specifics of what slowed Minnick and Olstad.
Provided an opening, the Arctic Cat-driving duo of Ryan Simons of Alberta and Cory Davis of Soldotna moved into second place, just 14 minutes behind the leaders.
Wily veterans Dusty VanMeter, a five-time champion, and Chad Gueco were running third on their Ski-Doos, having steadily moved up since the second day of the race.
Seventeen teams have scratched, including the team of Todd Palin, a four-time champ, and Eric Quam, the 2008 winner.