Hayden Paddon will be looking for a fourth ENEOS International Rally of Whangarei title as he makes his way north next weekend.
The World Rally Championship driver will be in one of 53 cars taking on the three-day, eighteen-stage event which covers 274km of Northland roads.
The 31-year-old will be the hot favourite in the event after dominating the opening round of the NZ Rally circuit and his odds have been helped with two-time defending champion Gaurav Gill missing from the field.
It's a shame Gill has not returned, having warmly praised the event after winning his second title in 2017.
"These roads are phenomenal, they're some of the best I've seen anywhere in the world. They're so fast the car almost dances from one corner to the next," he said.
That is good news for Paddon who, because of a shortened seven-event WRC programme with Hyundai Motorsport, is looking to refocus on Kiwi rallying.
He said he was excited to be back in the north, where he experienced his first taste of success.
"Whangarei has always been a highlight rally for me. It's where I got my first ever rally win in 2007, as well as its association with the WRC, at using iconic New Zealand roads made famous through rallying," he said.
"The camber of the roads, where you're jumping from corner-to-corner over the crown of the road is quite a sensation."
The ENEOS International Rally of Whangarei will also be celebrating 30 years of FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (ARPC) competition.
The Whangarei event is currently New Zealand's only international-level car rally and acts as the opening leg of the six-round championship.
Again starting and finishing in the host city of Whangarei, purpose-built cars are timed across stages - sections of typically rural gravel road, closed to the public.
At the end of each stage the teams return to public roads, and travel to the next point for competition or service.
While the overall driver and co-driver combination with lowest elapsed time will take the event honours there are multiple categories that cater to varying specifications of car.
Assisting in running the event, community groups including Whangarei Rotary Club, Hikurangi Lions, Mid Northern Scout Group, Maromaku School Group, Opuawhanga Hall, Kamo Club – Motorsport Section, Mid Western Lions, Waipu Lions, Waiotira Hall and Maungakaramea School will provide a variety of services from spectator marshalling to on-site catering.
Following shakedown and testing on the Friday afternoon the cars will be on show at the autograph session from 5pm on "The Fishhook of Pohe" bridge (Te Matau A Pohe).
At 6pm there is an official welcome before the cars travel to the first of two runs of the adjacent Pohe Island Super Special Stage, located inside the William Fraser Memorial Park. The cars are then put into an overnight secure park.