Motorsport fans flocked to The Strand to mark the start of the New Zealand Rally Championships tonight.

Hundreds of people of all ages got up close and personal with rally cars and rally stars, ahead of the championships in Tauranga this weekend.

Motorsport commentator Dale Budge said the atmosphere was buzzing.

"It's awesome; there are lots of people all the way down The Strand," he said.

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People watched in awe as 53 rally cars lined up on the street and Rally New Zealand crews held a competition of who could change tyres the fastest.

"It's neat to have a ceremonial opening of the rally champs here in Tauranga, taking the cars to the people," Budge said.

He said it was an opportunity for fans to get involved in the action and meet some of their heroes.

"From known drivers to the three guys fighting it out in the New Zealand Rally Championships this weekend, including Hayden Paddon in action."

Crowds gathered around Paddon, waiting their turn to take a selfie with the rally star.

"He's great with his fans; they respond well seeing a guy who has achieved what he's achieved. It's great to have him home," Budge said.

Noel Lee was visiting from Australia and came across the rally fan zone.

"We were petrol heads from way back; we ran in the first Mount car rally. It was called the William Hurst Rally," he said.

The New Zealand Rally Championships kicks off tomorrow with the cars heading over the Kaimai range to the West Coast.