1990 saw the first of three snowmobile rallies that conquered the Quebec frontier like a rally in the desert – the Harricana race. Much to the pleasure of snowmobile enthusiasts, the Harricana returned in 2001 and 2002. The 1990 was organized by Rene Metge and Thierry Reverchon, patterned after the infamous Paris-Dakar rally for cars, motorcycles and trucks, in which both had previously competed.
An 11-day ordeal that cost participants $18,000 per racer, plus equipment, the first Harricana was the largest, most daring event of this nature ever staged. The participants consisted of 87 riders, with many of them never having ridden a snowmobile! Most of the riders were from Quebec and France, with just one US team.
Many of the drivers were racers of either cars or motorcycles, and the dare of such a grueling race on snowmobiles intrigued them. Organized in teams of three, with one sled pulling a toboggan of supplies, they faced challenges from -50° temperatures, to rough terrain and bad weather. Overnights were usually in a tent, with some in camp buildings.
Early leaders in the race were a team of three Cree men from the Misstissini First Nation, sponsored by Ski-Doo. Points were accrued by scoring the slowest of the team’s riders between stops. Several other teams also pulled to the front early: three experienced US racers, Stan Hayes, Dan Kingsley and Craig Hansen, also sponsored by Ski-Doo; and two privately sponsored Yamaha entries from the Lac St-Jean area.
The event even had one all-women’s team led by Inuit rider, Rhoda Cookie. Their team was eliminated midway through the race when their sleds were demolished by a train. As the race progressed the lead changed several times, usually due to break-downs like those experienced by the Misstissini team that took them out of the running.
Spectators described the Harricana in vivid detail, noting the numerous times racers plowed into snowbanks; crashed, sometimes in spectacular ways; broke down again and again as the sleds pounded over the rough, frozen terrain; and the innovative ways the racers found to hold their snowmobiles together and carry on.
The ending of the race was just as spectacular as many of the incidents on the trail, with the first and second place teams separated by just 27 seconds! The team of US Ski-Doo riders, and one team of Yamahas, spent the last 90 kilometer sprint playing leap-frog as they passed one another. In the end, the $100,000 was won by Bernard Dufour, Paul Perron and Claude Marceau with their VK540 Yamaha sleds.
The final time for the endurance run was 37 hours, 38 minutes and 6 seconds for the 2500 kilometer course. How snowmobiles had changed in 30 years! The last finishers, nicknamed Team Speed, finished 37 hours behind the winners. Remarkably, 20 of the 29 starting teams made it over the finish line. Another 60 snowmobile drivers had made unbelievable journeys!
Snow Goer Magazine. March, 1991.