Casey Boylan of Anchorage and Bryan Leslie of Wasilla will leave Puntilla Lake on Saturday morning as leaders of the 2,474-mile Iron Dog snowmachine race.
The Big Lake finish line will be 148 miles ahead of them and the second-place team will be 28 minutes behind them.
A noon finish is expected at Burkeshore Marina, and in a new twist this year, every team is expected to finish before dark.
Race officials are keeping the top four teams at Puntilla Lake for a 16-hour hold that ends Saturday morning. The 14 remaining teams raced another 68 miles to Skwentna, where they’re on hold until around noon.
Teams in Skwentna can’t leave until the top four teams pass through. Ten minutes after the last of the frontrunners goes by, they’ll leave in 10-minute increments, with the fifth-place team leading the way, followed by the sixth-place team, and so on.
Usually teams are held overnight at the same checkpoint and leave according to their course times, with the fastest departing first. If the last place team’s course time is 12 hours slower than the leaders, it leaves 12 hours later.
That can make for a long day at the finish line, race director Mike Vasser said. Last year, the winning team finished a little after 1 p.m., and the last-place team finished a little after 10 p.m.
“The goal is to get everyone to finish before dark,” he said. “It’ll be good for the race. Fans usually leave after the first few teams finish, but if they know more are coming, they’ll stick around.”
Friday was a relatively mellow day for the frontrunners, who raced about 200 miles to Puntilla Lake after beginning their day in McGrath. That was practically a sprint compared to what they did Thursday -- nearly 700 miles from Kotzebue to McGrath, a marathon inspired by a desire to keep moving past Galena, where temperatures were forecast to plummet to minus-30
Jake Goodell, the Iron Dog’s director of timing, said the 700-mile haul is perhaps the longest stretch of racing he’s seen happen in one day.
“They are cruising,” he said in a race update provided by the Iron Dog. “It’s been stressful and sleepless but they’re doing it and we’re doing it, and I think it’s going great.”
Here are the top four teams and their departure times from Puntilla Lake:
-- 8:51 a.m. -- Boylan-Leslie, riding Polaris machines.
-- 9:19 a.m. -- Brad George of Wasilla and Robby Schachle of Big Lake, on Ski-Doos.
-- 10:04 a.m. -- Chris Olds of Eagle River and Mike Morgan of Nome, on Polaris.
-- 10:49 a.m. -- Andrew Gumley of Wasilla and Klinton VanWingerdon of Big Lake, on Polaris.