A shotgun blast will send motorcyclists scattering in the Bay of Plenty this weekend.
The annual Tarawera 100 dirt bike marathon is set to go once again on steep farmland near Whakatane on Saturday, the event marking the 34th time the great race has been staged in the shadow of nearby Mount Edgecumbe.
The event began in 1978, when the then popular trail rides organised through the forestry land around Kawerau suddenly became more than just another quiet off-road trek.
Now a must-do event on the racing calendar, it attracts the cream of the country's dirt-biking talent - star riders from the cross-country, enduro and even the motocross community including several high-profile Kiwi internationals.
The event has typically attracted a who's who of New Zealand off-road riding talent - from cross-country guns such as Paul Whibley, Mark "Tadpole" Davis and Nick Reader to motocross legends Bryan Patterson, Darryll King and Peter Broxholme, and enduro aces Sean Clarke, Karl Power, Rory Mead and Adrian Smith.
Mount Maunganui's Cody Cooper (MotoGB Suzuki RM-Z450) enjoyed a thrilling start-to-finish win last year, leaping to the lead right from the shotgun blast and out in front before the 218-rider field had even reached the first corner ... and he never looked back from there.
Cooper stretched his lead over Waitakere's Shaun Fogarty (KTM EXC300) to nearly 2min by the end of the first of four 38km laps, raced over steep and undulating farmland at the tiny settlement of Te Teko.
Cooper rode flawlessly over the gruelling 152km race that lasted nearly three hours.
By race end, Cooper was more than 3min in front of Fogarty, with the 2009 Tarawera 100 champion, Cambridge's Damien King (Yamaha YZ450F), taking third place another minute further back.
The race is four laps of about 40km of farmland, maize paddocks and forestry tracks near Kawerau and this gives the Tarawera 100 race its 160km length.
Cooper and Fogarty are expected to make the journey to race the Tarawera 100 again and they should prepare for stiff opposition from other leading riders and Tarawera 100 regulars such as Broxholme, Power, Smith and Mead, along with Tauranga's Reece Burgess, Auckland's Callan May, Huntly's Michael Vining, Stratford's Karl Roberts, Napier's John O'Dea and Te Awamutu's Mark Penny, to name just a few.
National MX2 motocross champion Darryll King, of Hamilton, could also surprise despite taking his 250cc two-stroke Yamaha into battle against the booming 450cc four-strokes.