Mount Maunganui's Rhys Carter is the newly-crowned king of Taranaki.
The 28-year-old 3Twenty3 Kawasaki Racing Team rider was in dazzling form as he completely dominated the annual King of the Mountain Motocross near New Plymouth on Sunday.
Carter took his Kawasaki KX450F to convincingly win all three of his races in the premier MX1 class and he then left no doubt about his superiority when he also led from start to finish in winning the all-in feature final, the last race of the two-day event.
Following some distance behind Carter in that all-important feature race were current national cross-country champion Brad Groombridge, from Taupo, and former national motocross champion Daryl Hurley, from Hawera.
It was not the first time that Carter had won the iconic Taranaki event, having also won the King of the Mountain trophy in 2015, but Sunday's performance perhaps had more significance for Carter because this is the same venue at which he will kick off his national championship campaign in just two weeks' time.
The King of the Mountain win was also a welcome boost for him ahead of the Honda New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix, set for Woodville next weekend, which will be quickly followed by the four-round nationals – round one in Taranaki on February 4, then Rotorua on February 25 and Hawke's Bay on March 11m before wrapping up at Taupo on March 24.
"I didn't have any real expectations arriving here," Carter said afterwards.
"This is only my second ride back since recovering from an injury I sustained while racing in the United States in June. My first comeback ride was at the Whakatane Summercross (just after Christmas) and I finished runner-up that day, so I guess it's all looking good for the rest of the season now isn't it?
"It was really a last-minute decision to come here because the weather forecast wasn't great and this event was cut short because of heavy rain last year. But I'm so glad now that I made the trip.
"I finished fourth overall at the Woodville GP last year and third in the MX1 class at the nationals last year, so I feel it's time for me to start winning.
"With all then coaching that I'm now doing, I think it helps me to focus also on my own riding and it's certainly improved. I'm thinking about my technique all the time.
"Today was a dummy run for what I can expect in some of the bigger race situations, like Woodville and the nationals, so I was pushing quite hard today. I learned a few things about this track today and flowed quite well on it, so I'm feeling quite confident ahead of the nationals."