Defending New Zealand Rally Championship driver David Holder and co-driver Jason Farmer will attempt to extend their series lead this weekend in Whangarei.
Holder and Farmer came away from Rally Otago three weeks ago victorious and will again be in the Hyundai New Zealand i20 at Whangarei. The picturesque and demanding roads of the Far North were the setting stones for Holder's 2016 championship and it was the first time in five attempts he had won the round.
"We made a few faux pas in the past while I was learning the ropes," said Holder. "Since I've had Jason on board we've got better and better at each event.
"We'll keep building and hopefully we'll have another good one here again. I like the roads and how the car jumps from corner to corner and we've always had good pace up here. I'm enjoying the driving and it's showing in the results."
Despite his bad fortune over the years, the event which is also the opening gambit of the international Asia Pacific Rally Championship, is one of his favourites, Holder will be able to benchmark his progress over the last year against a field that features international drivers from Norway, India, Japan, Finland and Sweden.
"Funny enough this is one of my favorite rallies of the year. It's always good and a challenge to see how you go up against drivers from overseas. There's the new Mitsubishi AP4 here this year so we're all in similar machinery, which is a change from the past.
"It's quite exciting and we're looking forward to see how we go," said Holder.
It's going to be difficult to prise the keys to the AP4 i20 Hyundai away from Holder as he has found the car to be a bit of a revelation compared to his Mitsubishi Evo he won the 2016 NZRC title in. The car is run by Paddon RallySport under the Hyundai NZ Rally Team banner, and is co-managed by New Zealand's world rally star Hayden Paddon and his father Chris.
"It's going to be hard to pry me out of it that's for sure. It's a pretty cool car and I really enjoyed Otago in it. The whole atmosphere, the team and the car was really cool.
"The short version is that the car is a lot different to my one and I'm still learning what all the differences are and how to make the most of them. From the outset the car is a lot quicker than the Evo and I don't have to drive it as hard to get the same stage times.
"In Otago we were going about the same speed as I would have been in the old car but not putting as much risk in, or very little risk. We've been doing a lot more work, including pace notes, so we should be quicker this weekend," he said.
Holder has an eight-point advantage over Andrew Hawkeswood who may still be ruing a costly mistake that saw him hit with a time penalty at Otago, costing him the win. Hawkeswood was fastest on five stages and showed he and the Mazda are championship contenders.
Third in the standings is Graham Featherstone in an Evo 7 who might just be the surprise package over the weekend.
Emma Gilmore will be looking to make up for a miserable start to her championship season and has form on the roads in and around Whangarei having finished second there last year.
On debut this weekend are motorsport identity Greg Murphy in his 4WD Holden Barina AP4, Dylan Turner in his AP4 spec Audi S1 Quattro and four-time New Zealand Classic Rally champion Marcus Van Klink his unusual Mazda RX8 in the Open 2WD category.
Dylan Thompson heads the production 2WD field in his Ford Fiesta, while spectacular Welshman Anthony Jones in his modified Escort leads Open 2WD while John Silcock and Tony Gosling will battle it out in the Historics.
Leading the international field is last year's winner and APRC champion Gaurav Gill from India.
He is joined by teammate Norwegian Ole Vieby in another Skoda Fabia. They will be up against Swedish duo Jari Ketomaa (a former WRC driver) and Robert Blomberg in a matching pair of Mitsubishi Mirages.
Other international entries include India's PG Abhilash and Japan's Fuyuhiko Takahashi each in Subaru STI cars. Two Kiwi teams of Ben Hunt (Subaru STI) and Dylan Turner (Audi S1) round out the international field.
Today starts with two loops of four tests and then the cars head to Piahia before returning to Whangarei for a midday service break.
Then they do it all again in the afternoon.
Tomorrow, the teams travel south to the Waipu Caves stage followed by the Waiotira test and the Tangihua stage.
The cars return to Whangarei for a brief service break before repeating the loop in the early afternoon and finishing in the city.