Published DateLACONIA — Justin Fortier of St. Raymond, Quebec, became the youngest driver ever to win the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby by overcoming a deficit of more than three minutes with a nearly flawless Sunday run that catapulted him from third to first place.
Fortier, 20, a carpenter from a small town some 40 miles northwest of Quebec City, said that his decision to switch his lead dog on Sunday from a five and a half year old dog to one only 18 months old helped pave the way for his outstanding Sunday run.
''We were very good today. I'm really proud of my team,'' said Fortier, as he waited at the finish line in a field off from Old North Main Street Sunday afternoon for confirmation from the official scorer that he had won.
''We did it!'' he said as Lakes Region Sled Dog Club announcer Tony Roux announced over the loudspeaker that Fortier had pulled off a major upset by eclipsing the three minute, 19 second lead held by two-time champion Claude Bellerive of Charette, Quebec, and finished 50 seconds ahead with a three-day time of 2 hours, 14 minutes and 20 seconds compared to two hours, 15 minutes and 10 seconds for Bellerive.
Fortier was hugged immediately by Diane Marquis of St. Medard, Quebec, co-owner of his kennel, and his mother, Andree Fortier, who was latter honored with the Keith Bryar and Charlie Ned Memorial Trophy as the best dog handler in the open class.
Fortier said that most of the dogs on his team are one and a half to two years old and many had not even been born when the last Laconia Derby was held in 2011.
''I didn't race here two years ago because I didn't have a kennel.'' said Fortier, who finished third in the 2009 six-dog event and has been driving sled dogs for eight years.
He raced with 16 dogs on Friday and Saturday and dropped down to 14 dogs on Sunday.
Marquis, who runs the Chenil Claudie Kennel, says that her dogs are an Alaskan Husky-German Shorthaired Pointer mix and that she has been breeding and selling sled dogs for 20 years.
''They are well-behaved, friendly dogs who are easy to manage,'' said Marquis, who raced her own team in the six-dog class and finished seventh.
Fortier beat out not only Bellerive, who won the derby in 2007 and 2008, but also Keith Bryar Jr., of Moultonborough, defending champion, who won in 2011 and in 2002;, and Guy Girard of St. Thomas Joliette, Quebec, who had the second best times on both Friday and Saturday and has raced in Alaska.
Girard finished third with an overall time of 2:23.28 and Bryar was fourth with a time of 2:23.28.
Bellerive, whose daughter Melanie won the six-dog championship, was in trouble right at the start of Sunday's race when he lost about 40 seconds as he had to switch lead dogs. He then lost a lost of time on one of the trail loops when his team went past a turn they needed to make and he had to walk them back around.
The youngest musher to win a Laconia race prior to this year's 84th annual derby was John Piscopo Jr. of Tilton, who was 21 when he won in 1969. Piscopo, who won again the following year, was also the youngest musher ever to race in the Laconia Derby and was only 13 years old when he raced in 1961.
Justin Fortier of St. Raymond, Quebec smiles after hearing on Sunday afternoon that his team won the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby. Fortier, 20, became the youngest musher ever to win the derby. He is congratulated by Diane Marquis of St. Medard, Quebec, co-owner of his kennel. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)