Race officials stood at the halfway point with pens and clipboards ready to record times and bib numbers as an ominous rumble from snowmobiles, kilometres away, crept out from the horizon. It is no simple task recording the bib number of a sledder whipping by at over 160 kilometres an hour. Sometimes the colour of the machine and helmet would have to suffice until they figure out the bib number later.
But the race has been going on for 47 years, so organizers of the Alcan 200 International Snow Machine Road Rally have learned to deal with such hiccups.
One apparently gets used to the ridiculous speed.
“Every year it becomes less stressful and less scary,” said Whitehorse’s Justin Peterson. “As you can imagine, going those speeds can be a little nerve-racking at times …
“It is a thrill. As you do this race more and more, you get more comfortable and that allows you to focus more on racing and trying to go faster, instead of being nervous about crashing or hitting patches of bare asphalt where you can’t steer or break.”
Peterson was one of six Yukoners in last Saturday’s race, billed as the longest on-road snowmobile race in North America.
Of the six, two won, two placed second and two did not finish.
Peterson and Haines Junction’s Ken Schamber both defended their titles in their respective divisions.
Peterson took first in the 0-440cc liquid-cooled class on his 2003 Arctic Cat 440 Sno Pro. Saturday was his sixth Alcan and his third time taking first.
“Every year I learn more and more about the race and about my machine,” said Peterson. “Every year I make changes to go faster, have it handle better. This year I made a change to my gearing – the gear ratio, basically – and I have to do some additional tuning to get it to go as fast as I did last year. But there should be some potential to go even faster.”
Peterson completed the 250-kilometre course from the Canada-U.S. border outside of Haines, Alaska, to Dezadeash Lake and back in one hour, 32 minutes and 24 seconds.
The 28-year-old posted an average speed of 161.9 kilometres an hour – including two fuel stops each way – and a top speed of 185 kilometres per hour, according to his GPS device.
Believe it or not, he was even faster last year with a personal best time of 1:29:45.
“The times in general were a little bit slower this year, just because of the conditions,” said Justin. “The conditions this year were average, for sure, but between that and the tuning differences, that’s what slowed me up three miles per hour. It’s not a whole lot in the scheme of things, but it’s the difference between winning and losing.”
Schamber notched his fifth win in six years, taking first in the 441cc-open fan class.
The 45-year-old and his Ski-Doo 550 Summit completed the course in 1:49:45, about three minutes off his personal best time set last year.
Peterson’s brother Nathan was the fastest Yukoner on the day – and fifth overall in the race – with a second place finish in the 551-650cc liquid class at 1:32:04.
Nathan roared through the course with an average speed of 162.5 kilometres an hour.
Whitehorse’s Mario Poulin, who has been racing the Alcan for more than two decades, was the other second-place finisher for Yukon. He rode his 1980 Polaris TX 440 – yep, 1980 – to the finish in 1:46:44, just 40 seconds behind the division winner Phil Wood of Fairbanks in the 0-440cc fan class.
Whitehorse sledders Robby King and Steve Chambers suffered engine failure and were among five racers in the field of 24 to not finish.
“When you’re running full throttle for an hour and a half, nothing lasts very long,” said Justin.
Haines, Alaska’s Chris Brooks was the fastest on the day, taking the overall title and the winner’s cheque for $1,000. Brooks finished in 1:23:14 with an average speed of about 180 kilometres an hour.
“The most amazing part, and I’ve heard them say this time and again, they get up there and started and it’s like, ‘Whoa, I can go as fast as I want!’” said organizer Kathi Lapp. “They can never do that. I think that’s something that really amazes them, especially the first time.”
The Peterson brothers, who are both hooked on the race, hope to raise awareness of the rally and introduce it to the next generation of sledders. They and members of their pit crews plan to bring their machines to a “sled-ed” mechanical class at Vanier Catholic Secondary School early February.
“We’re going to talk to them about racing and show them our machines, what it takes to race,” said Justin. “Hopefully that’s one step in the right direction of getting some more interest drummed up in the race.
“If people are more interested in learning more about it, they can go on the Alcan website (www.alcan200.org).”
Contact Tom Patrick at
651-800cc liquid class
1st Chris Brooks (Haines) – 1:23:14
2nd Jack Smith Jr. (Haines) – 1:25:14
3rd Steve McLaughlin (Haines) – 1:32:06
551-650cc liquid class
1st George Juhlin (North Pole) – 1:30:04
2nd Nathan Peterson (Whitehorse) – 1:32:04
3rd Zach Ferrin (Haines) – 1:32:29
0-440cc liquid class
1st Justin Peterson (Whitehorse) – 1:32:24
2nd Dan Dickerson (Fairbanks) – 1:35:07
DNF Shane Horton (Haines)
441cc-open fan class
1st Ken Schamber (Haines Junction) – 1:49:45
2nd Tyler Ferrin (Juneau) – 2:19:19
3rd Dave Zugel (Haines) – 3:09:02
0-440cc fan class
1st Phil Wood (Fairbanks) – 1:46:04
2nd Mario Poulin (Whitehorse) – 1:46:44
3rd Lyn Campbell (Haines) – 2:03:28