The big annual post-Christmas Whakatane Summercross just got bigger.
As one of the last major motocross events on the calendar before the 2013 national championship season gets under way, the country's elite riders are again flocking to the Bay of Plenty region in huge numbers and will line up for battle in just over a week's time.
The Honda-sponsored Summercross is set for the weekend of December 29-30, with juniors Saturday and seniors Sunday, and it will this season celebrate its 41st birthday as one of New Zealand's premier stand-alone motocross events.
While the list of potential winners is as long as it is illustrious, most will be picking national MX1 champion Ben Townley, of Tauranga, to again put his Carlton Dry Honda CRF450 on top of the podium.
Kiwi international Townley won the five races from five starts in the premier grade at last year's Summercross.
More than 500 riders have signed up to race and, with more than 40 races on the two-day programme, there will be plenty to catch the eye.
The anticipated showdown between Townley and other heavy-hitters such as fellow Kiwi international Cody Cooper (Moto City Suzuki RM-Z450), of Mount Maunganui, Whakatane's Mitchell Rees (Tony Rees Motorcycles Honda CRF450), Taupo's Brad Groombridge (Huka Honda CRF450) and former Summercross champion Michael Phillips (Rowlinson Honda CRF450), of Rotorua, will likely feature as the main attraction for race fans.
British rider Alex Snow (JCR Yamaha racing team) adds an international flavour to the event and his Grand Prix motocross experience should place him among the leaders.
Townley said Summercross was his "favourite event on the New Zealand calendar".
"Everyone is in a holiday spirit and it's a lot of fun. The track changes this year will give the riders more air time and that's good for the spectators, too," he said.
Event race director Tony Rees, of Whakatane, said the course had undergone an extensive re-design, now incorporating a "super jump", just to "sort the men from the boys".
"Not everybody will be able to clear the jump, only the brave," said Rees.
"But, in saying that, it's not there to catch anyone out and it's still a safe jump. Ben Townley has helped us with the track design and it's stepped it up to another level," said Rees.
The Honda Summercross boasts a galaxy of stars right across the various categories, with Hamilton's national MX2 champion Darryll King (Yamaha), Queenstown's No2 Scott Columb (Yamaha), Mount Maunganui's No3 Rhys Carter (Suzuki), Tauranga's No4 Peter Broxholme (Honda), Kiwi international Kieran Scheele (Honda), of Elsthorpe, Waitakere's Ethan Martens (Yamaha), Taupo's Cam Dillon (Honda) and BikesportNZ.com star Kayne Lamont (KTM), of Mangakino, all expected to challenge for the MX2 (250cc) class trophy.
"The youth MX class is proving very popular with a lot of 125cc riders entered there," said Rees. "We are again running a back-to-back format for the MX1 and MX2 classes, something that will really test to stamina and strength of the riders, as well as longer races for them later in the afternoon. In all, there will be five races each for both the MX1 and MX2 glamour classes."