Taupo will again draw the cream of the country's motocross riders this Labour Weekend.
The big annual MX Fest at Taupo traditionally marks the start to the summer season and the event has attracted all the nation's major racers and teams to the steaming pumice and sand circuit.
The popularity of the two-day spectacular at the Digger McEwen Motorcycle Park, on the outskirts of the town, ensures there won't be a motel bed to spare in the region over the coming days.
With 2017 model bikes to be tuned and set-up for the upcoming nationals, muscles to be flexed, fresh team line-ups and allegiances to be shaped and tested, and a long weekend in which to do it, the MX Fest heralds the start of what could be another cracking motocross season.
World, national and provincial titles count for nothing, international credentials are likely to be challenged and past loyalties go out the window as the new season brings forward fresh and exciting match-ups at this Huka Honda-sponsored event, with riders such as Ngatea's Ben Broad, Te Puke's Logan Blackburn, Mangakino's Maximus Purvis, Te Puke's Tyler Steiner, and Tauranga's Rhys Carter, for example, all now flying different colours to last season.
Local riders such as Taupo's Brad Groombridge, Rotorua's Scotty Canham, Reporoa's Hadleigh Knight, Mangakino's Kayne Lamont and Taupo brothers Cohen and Wyatt Chase should also feature among the leaders, although former motocross Grand Prix star Josh Coppins, from Motueka, and current national MX1 champion Cody Cooper, from Mount Maunganui, are possibly the key men to beat.
Although now retired from international competition, Coppins convincingly won the MX1 class at MX Fest last year, while Cooper was a notable no-show.
Seeing a clash between these two on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon would be worth the admission price alone.
Otago's Courtney Duncan, Amberley's Micah McGoldrick, Waitakere's Ethan Martens, Tauranga's Roydon White, Dairy Flat's Claude Griffith, Cambridge's Trent Collins, Karaka's Kurtis Lilly, Coatesville's Sam Greenslade and Beachlands' Blake Gillard will also be contenders.
Duncan is another with vast international experience after she raced the women's world championships in Europe this season. It would be no surprise if she won the MX2 class outright at Taupo, just as she did at the New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville in January.
"This is the first big hit-out of the season and, with Speedcross set to entertain the fans on Saturday evening, the entertainment will be top-notch over the entire weekend," said host Taupo Motorcycle Club spokesman Bevan Weal.
"The Speedcross (a mix of speedway, supercross and motocross) will be a battle between New Zealand's top 'dirty dozen', with entries limited, and racing will feature multi-time former national champion and former international Darryll King, as well as riders such as Coppins, Cooper, Groombridge and Carter.
"The main track for racing on Saturday and Sunday is looking pristine at the moment, with club volunteers putting in hundreds of hours of work," said Weal.
"The sawdust section has been refreshed and will surely trip up a few riders. It's always popular with the spectators."
Now in its 31st year, the MX Fest event is expected to attract riders in their hundreds and spectators in their thousands, with the race programme, as usual, featuring the mini, junior and women riders on Saturday and senior and veteran racers on Sunday.