Iron Dog approaches its final stage: Johnson, Aklestad in lead

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The 2016 Iron Dog Snowmachine Race is approaching its final stage, and Team 8 is cautiously guarding its lead.

The team of Eagle River’s Tyson Johnson and Palmer’s Tyler Aklestad were the first to reach Tanana this afternoon at 1:47 – 39 minutes faster than their closest competitors.

Aklestad said that his team is ready to go full throttle if necessary, but for now, they are choosing to play it safe – and not looking over their shoulders.

“Coming from Nome to here, any sort of sections we thought were going to fatigue our machines, potentially have a problem, we just shut it back down and really went 60%,” said Aklestad. “We just really wanted to get through it all and we’re saving these machines. You gotta get them to the finish.”

Behind Aklestad and Johnson is the team of veteran Brad George and rookie Robby Schachle (SHACK-uhl), who arrived at Tanana at 2:30 this afternoon.   And two-time winners Todd Minnick and Nick Olstad are in third place, just 3 minutes behind George and Schachle.

As the frontrunners moved onto the Yukon River early this morning, race conditions were not ideal, due to poor visibility.  After stopping in Galena, Team 20’s Scott Faeo said he was flying blind along the river.

“It dropped, you know, 20 degrees so you had that real bad kind of snow dust, ice fog hanging and my auxiliary light hasn’t been working since Nome,” Faeo said. “So I’m kind of just fighting hanging in snow dust the whole way.”

Jason Gundersen and Josh Norum from Fairbanks are the top all-rookie team in the race, arriving at Galena in fifth place this morning.  Gundersen admitted that he is surprised at how well the team is performing.

“We didn’t expect to be here at all to be honest,” said Gundersen. “We were sitting in Nome talking about it like ‘we’re not in it to finish the race. We’re actually in the race so, it’s pretty exciting.”    

All teams must stop at Tanana tonight, before they are released tomorrow morning for the final dash into Fairbanks, where a winner is expected around noon.

As of this afternoon, 25 out of the original 41 teams were still in the race.