The 2017 New Zealand Superbike Championships kick-off in Christchurch this weekend to begin the battle to find the nation's best racers across half a dozen bike categories.
The four-round affair begins at Mike Pero Motorsport Park (formerly Ruapuna Raceway), on the outskirts of Christchurch, this Saturday and Sunday.
Most attention will be on the premier superbike class, where last season's national champion Sloan Frost is among those favoured to win.
But the Wellington man was unable to retain his pre-nationals Suzuki Series crown, the three-round competition wrapping up on the public streets of Whanganui's famous Cemetery Circuit on Boxing Day.
Frost lost out in the Suzuki Series to perennial front-runner Tony Rees (Whakatane), while visiting Liechtenstein rider Horst Saiger took the runner-up honours. Frost was third overall.
The 49-year-old Rees impressed when he won both the superbike races and, for a remarkable seventh time, won the Robert Holden Memorial feature race at the annual Cemetery Circuit races on Boxing Day and if he can maintain that momentum, he will be hard to beat this weekend.
Recent history favours defending national superbike champion Frost.
Frost won three races from three starts at Ruapuna last season, with the gruelling 20-lap third leg at Ruapuna recognised as the stand-out race to decide the New Zealand Grand Prix title.
The 35-year-old Frost will naturally be hoping he can produce the same results this weekend as he achieved there last year.
However, Rees, Glen Eden's Daniel Mettam, Christchurch's Alastair Hoogenboezem, Waimauku's Ray Clee and superbike newcomer Mitch Rees, the 23-year-old eldest son of Tony Rees, will also be expected to feature prominently in the glamour superbike class races at Ruapuna.
The supersport 600cc class should be another cracker this season, with the second son of Tony Rees - 21-year-old Damon Rees - an obvious favourite to win the national 600cc crown after taking out the Suzuki Series in this class.
Others to watch are Suzuki Series runner-up in the 600cc class, Wainuiomata's Shane Richardson, Orewa's 2015 and 2016 European Women's Cup champion Avalon Biddle, Christchurch pair Cam Hudson and James Hoogenboezem, Invercargill's Jeremy Holmes, Auckland's 22-year-old rising star Nathanael Diprose, Rangiora's Kiwi international Jake Lewis and visiting Australian Alex Phillis, the son of former World Superbike Championships legend Robbie Phillis.
With racing scheduled also in the 1000cc superstock, superlite, junior and senior development, 250cc production, lightweight, 125 GP, Pro Twins, Bears (non-Japanese bikes) and sidecars categories, the four-round season opener should offer plenty of high-calibre entertainment.
Following racing at Ruapuna this weekend, the series heads to Teretonga for round two on January 14-15, round three follows at Taupo on February 25-26 and it all wraps up at Hampton Downs, near Meremere, on March 4-5.
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