Tauranga sits in pole position to host a return of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) to New Zealand roads, perhaps as soon as 2018.
Negotiations involving Rally New Zealand, the Tauranga City Council and the WRC promoter are exploring the chances of New Zealand regaining a place on the world championship calendar.
There are hopes the event would bring large numbers of supporters to Tauranga, raise the region's profile to would-be visitors and pump millions into the economy.
Rally New Zealand chairman Peter Johnston confirmed to the Bay of Plenty Times that Tauranga was the front-runner to host a New Zealand round of the world championship. He said the 2018 season was the earliest possible date for the WRC to return here.
"Tauranga is our first preference but nothing will be decided for at least another six months," he said.
Tauranga is set to host a two-day national series final round in 2017 - with a provisional date set in November.
Next year's national rally is effectively a trial run to ensure a proven event is in place if the WRC bid is successful.
WRC officials were visiting New Zealand this week - immediately after attending Rally Australia last weekend - for a preliminary check of the infrastructure needed to run a world championship event.
Tourism Bay of Plenty's Kathrin Low said international events attracted a large number of supporters, family and friends and consequently the region reaped positive economic benefits.
''We've seen the benefits of hosting RWC in New Zealand - the games were broadcast around the world and the media reported constantly while here. If the World Rally Championship was to be hosted locally we would receive international coverage and exposure.''
Ms Low said it was focused on supporting Tauranga City Council with hosting and scoping, as required.
Tauranga City Council sponsorship & leverage manager Sarah Lewis said the council was committed to working with Rally NZ, should the WRC global promoters decide to host a stage here in Tauranga.
Events play a key role in showcasing our city locally, nationally and internationally.
"They help create opportunities for businesses and residents alike by bringing more visitors and activity to the city year-round. This brings positive economic benefits (more visitor nights, increased local and regional GDP) and helps create a vibrant and exciting city. "
The 2017 New Zealand Championship event in Tauranga will be the final of a six-round national series and is slated for the weekend of November 25-26. The timing is one week after the provisional date for WRC Rally Australia next year.
NZ Rally Championship co-ordinator Blair Read said: "The date has been chosen to allow Hayden Paddon to compete in his New Zealand-based Hyundai AP4 car,''
He said the 2017 rally would feature a long day of gravel special stages across into the Waikato with a shorter day closer to Tauranga and possibly near Rotorua.
He said Mt Maunganui's Baypark stadium would be the rally headquarters and service park with potentially a competitive super special stage at the stadium.
"Part of the 2017 event will be an anniversary celebration of 50 years of rallying in New Zealand," said Mr Read.
He said more plans for the 2017 event will be announced in mid-December.
World Rally Champs
New Zealand has a celebrated WRC history with the championship first visiting in 1977. In total 31 WRC events were staged here between 1977 and the most recent event in 2012.