The Alcan in the name of the rally comes from the road built in 1942 by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers linking Alaska to the Canadian road network. The 5000 stands for the miles traditionally covered by entrants. Those miles include transit stages of 200 to 700 miles, many short 15- to 30-mile TSD stages, and a few Gran Prix-type timed runs on river or lake ice or on a winter racetrack.
Transits are not officially timed, but often end with a scheduled stage. They are designed to test vehicle reliability and handling, driver endurance and skill, and, most important, judgment. The route presents ice, snowpack, snow, blizzards, ground blizzards, fog, whiteouts, caribou, bison, and other random critters.
The TSD stages feature progress timed down to tenths of a second according to the rally instructions. Cars are dispatched at one-minute intervals. Timers lurk at undisclosed points to award penalty points for any errors – too fast or too slow. Some cars run with sophisticated computers, while others run by the SOP with only a stopwatch and the odometer.
The ice races, called slaloms, are scored by elapsed time on the course. Vehicle handling, driver skill, and tires are the critical factors. Weakness in any of these usually means snowbank excursions and often extraction by one of the “sweep” trucks. Sweep teams also keep busy during long transits and sometimes on TSDs.
Winter in the North is unforgiving, but that makes the challenge more interesting, exciting, and popular. Some folks return again and again for this rally. The record is nine, five of them winter events, beginning in 1996. The Alcan 5000 schedule has summer events, on which motorcycles are included. Summer rallies do not include Tuktoyaktuk because “Tuk” is 125 miles north of the Dempster road to Inuvik via the frozen Mackenzie River.