If any message came out of the annual Labour weekend Motocross Extravaganza at Taupo it's that this season is going to be particularly brutal.
It was certainly clear the Altherm JCR Yamaha Racing Team and the CMR Red Bull KTM Team mean business and are serious about winning national titles.
Yamaha team manager Josh Coppins, of Motueka, said the two-day event was merely a "shake-down for the season ahead".
But the shake-down became a shake-up as his team's newcomer, Logan Blackburn, the 125cc national No 2 from Te Puke, stepped up to dominate the 125cc class at Taupo, winning from local hero Hadleigh Knight (KTM) of Atiamuri.
The Yamaha team's national MX2 champion, Queenstown's Scotty Columb, clinched the overall win in the MX2 class ahead of fellow Kiwi international Kayne Lamont (BikesportNZ.com KTM), of Mangakino. And Yamaha ring-in Ethan Martens, from Waitakere, took the team's YZ450F bike to win the prestigious Nicky Smith Memorial all-capacities feature race, the signature race of the weekend.
"We won two out of three classes and won the feature race too ... it's a great start to the season," said a delighted Coppins afterwards.
"I had never seen Logan race before this weekend and Scotty had been sidelined for seven months as he recovered from surgery, so I really didn't know what to expect."
Martens' feature race win was a nail-biter. Martens seemed to be cruising out front when his nearest challenger, Taupo's Brad Groombridge (Action Suzuki RM-Z450), was almost gifted the win when Martens struck trouble on the 10th and final lap.
"The front wheel of the bike washed out and sent me tumbling down the track," Martens said. Although dazed, Martens quickly remounted and nursed his bike to the finish.
Groombridge had been forced to battle through traffic after a shocking start and still wasn't close enough to capitalise on Martens' spill; he had to settle for runner-up spot, finishing more than five seconds adrift of the battered and bruised Martens.
While disappointed not to win the feature race, Groombridge was still impressive. His charge through the field from last to second was phenomenal, as was the battle from near last to fifth by MX2 rider Lamont, who was riding a borrowed bike.
Groombridge's score line for the day was 1-1-2, earning him outright honours in the MX1 class.
A new signing to the KTM team, Hamilton 14-year-old Josiah Natzke, was a sensation. He convincingly won all three of his Junior 12-14 years 125cc class races, as well as beating all the older riders, many of them on 250cc bikes, in the all-in Champion of Champions feature race that wrapped up the junior programme.
"It was a perfect debut for my new team. It was awesome," said Natzke, a Year 10 student at Hamilton Boys' High School. "As the track got rougher late in the day I had a few scary moments but I managed to keep it all together."
Natzke finished the junior Champion of Champions feature race ahead of Taupo's Cohen Chase (KTM) and Ngatea's Benjamin Broad (Yamaha).
The next big event will be the Auckland Motocross Championships at Tuakau on November 16-17.