Hamilton's Andrew Stroud may feel as if he has a target on his back - and for good reason.
In just over a week's time the 44-year-old multi-time New Zealand superbike champion will embark on what may be his last season of racing with a big line-up of talented rivals determined to wipe the No1 from the front of his Suzuki GSX-R1000 superbike.
But, as usual, Stroud has one thing on his mind, to win, and, if he does so again this season he will make it five Suzuki Tri Series wins in a row.
The Suzuki Tri Series starts at Hampton Downs, just north of Huntly, on Saturday, December 8, heads to Manfeild in the Manawatu for round two a week later, on December 16, and then wraps up with the traditional Cemetery Circuit event, on the public streets of Wanganui, on Boxing Day.
Stroud firmly rubber-stamped his ownership of the Suzuki Tri Series when he scored his fourth consecutive title win on Wanganui's streets just after last Christmas, but he says it is getting tougher and tougher each year.
Fellow Hamilton rider Nick Cole (Kawasaki ZX-10R) was Suzuki Tri Series runner-up last year and he'll be back again this year to have another shot.
"This could be my last Suzuki Tri-Series," says father-of-nine Stroud. "Suzuki has been so good to me over the past 12 years and it would be great to wrap up the title for them in Wanganui, right in their back yard.
"Everyone is getting faster so it's never easy. Riders such as Nick Cole, Sloan Frost, James Smith and Craig Shirriffs are all extremely fast."
The Suzuki Tri Series has extra sponsorship this year - thanks to additional support from Wanganui.com - lifting the prizemoney to $30,000.
In addition, the Cemetery Circuit series finale will this year celebrate the 60th anniversary of the great race in Wanganui with a get-together on Christmas Eve and an anniversary dinner and prizegiving on Boxing Day at the Wanganui Racecourse.
"The whole Suzuki Tri Series, and the Cemetery Circuit event in particular, is like a good wine," says series promoter Allan "Flea,' Willacy, "it just gets better with age."
In addition to Stroud, Cole, Frost, Smith and Shirriffs, the event has enticed multiple former champion and street racer Tony Rees, of Whakatane, to enter.
Other talented individuals in the line-up include Taranaki father and son Terry and Hayden Fitzgerald, Auckland's Ray Clee, Wellington's Glen Skachill and Christchurch's Ryan Hampton, while national 600 supersport champion Dennis Charlett, of Christchurch, steps up to do battle on a 1000cc Suzuki superbike this season.
Stroud knows he is up against it, but the smart pundits are probably still picking the Suzuki ace to make it five in a row.
The series features races for F1, F2, F3, sidecars, post-classic pre-89, BEARS, and 450cc supermoto.
2012 Suzuki International Tri-Series calendar:
Round 1: Hampton Downs, December 8
Round 2: Manfeild, December 16
Round 3: Wanganui Cemetery Circuit, December 26