It was a testing start to the New Zealand rally season for Rotorua's Sloan Cox as he was haunted by mechanical issues in the opening events.
Coming into this year's national championship on the back of an impressive second-place finish in 2016, the Cox Motorsport team were full of confidence. However, the Otago, Whangarei and Canterbury rallies were write-offs thanks to unexpected mechanical issues.
The tide began to turn at the Rally of Coromandel in August. The entire Cox Motorsport crew breathed a sigh of relief as Cox got his Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X across the finish line and took sixth place. He was confident, with a little more tinkering, he would be even more competitive at the next event.
In September he won the Ashley Forest Rallysprint, in North Canterbury, in dominant fashion before travelling to Waitomo for the fifth round of the New Zealand championship in October. The return to form continued as he finished second, behind Auckland's Ben Hunt, in Waitomo.
Cox sits fifth overall in the New Zealand Rally Championship heading into this weekend's final round in Tauranga.
"I'm feeling really good actually, we've worked hard to get the car ready. We went for a test in the weekend and it felt really good, probably the best I've felt to be honest. Coming off the back of Waitomo, I'm really pumped for the weekend.
"I've been on all the roads before, but not for a few years, so I do know them semi-well. I've got old footage I'm watching over, some roads may have changed slightly, but they're roads I know and I love."
Mathematically, Cox could still finish first, but it would take drivers ahead of him retiring on both days.
"Realistically, fourth I can push for and achieve and I could get third if one of the top guys retires. From where the year started, we're pretty happy with where we could end up.
"The main thing was getting the car to the finish line. The big thing for us in the second half of the year has been finishing events and we did that in Coromandel with an all right result, then in Waitomo we put the foot down for that second and it came quite easily, so we want to do the same thing this weekend.
"Finishing second [in the NZ Rally Championship] last year was the best result I've had, but the plan to go one better this year didn't really pan out. It's frustrating because we spent a lot of time and money on the car in the off-season to improve it, which we did, but it went backwards in other areas and caused problems we've never had before. It definitely was a learning experience."
His ambition to race internationally could be a step closer as yesterday Cox announced a new international sponsor, Swedish company Teng Tools.
"Being that it's an international company it can help take us places we haven't been before. We know how hard it is to get big international companies on board, so to achieve that is wicked.
"The dream is to race overseas and they sponsor a lot of rally-cross overseas. They've sponsored Peter Solberg who is a former World Rally champion and now a rally-cross champion.
"If we can use their contacts, whatever we can, to get ourselves overseas, that would be the biggest aim and opportunity we can take from them," he said.
2017 Rally New Zealand in Tauranga - November 24-26
On Friday, the Strand in Tauranga will host a pre-event rally show and ceremonial start, providing fans the opportunity to get up close with the cars and stars. With Kiwi WRC driver Hayden Paddon confirmed for the event, a large crowd is expected to see the teams flagged away from the start.
The competitive action will start on Saturday morning with teams heading over the Kaimai ranges to the west coast and eight stages covering 200km based from a central service park at Raglan. Stages including Te Akau, Te Hutewai and the iconic WRC Rally NZ signature test - the world renowned Whaanga Coast - 29km of winding gravel coast road, await drivers.
Leg two, on Sunday, is based from the ASB Baypark Stadium and takes in six special stages to the south of Tauranga including the 25km Manawahe test.