The first shots have been fired today in what is expected to be a brutal war this season for national motorcycling glory.
The first of four rounds in the 2017 New Zealand Superbike Championships kicked off with one race for each of the classes at Mike Pero Motorsport Park, on the outskirts of Christchurch, and the early indications are that hot tempers between the top riders in the pre-nationals Suzuki Series have not cooled down at all over the intervening two weeks since that competition wrapped up.
In fact, Whakatane's Tony Rees and Wellington's Sloan Frost simply refuelled their fiery rivalry in the superbike class, while Wainuiomata's Shane Richardson and Whakatane's Damon Rees fanned the still-flickering embers of their 600cc supersport class dispute.
Rees won the glamour superbike class in the Suzuki Series and defending national superbike champion Frost finished third overall, so perhaps this could be Rees' year to again win the national crown - his win over Frost in the first 10-lap superbike race today certainly showed that this was a distinct possibility, although it was a tiny winning margin of less than 200th of a second.
Frost had topped qualifying, so he was obviously disappointed to finish second today.
It was a slightly different scenario in the 600cc class, with 21-year-old Damon Rees, the Suzuki Series winner in this class, forced to accept a rare runner-up finish today as Richardson powered to a convincing win, although the 4.5-second winning margin was perhaps a little flattering because Rees' bike had mysteriously lost power soon after the start.
"I'll take that though," said an overjoyed Richardson afterwards. "I had the lead right from the start and actually wasn't expecting that. I just made sure I was consistent throughout the race and made no mistakes.
"Getting a win to start the series is great for me. I've never had much luck here in the past.
"The pace was really hot and it'll probably be even hotter tomorrow with a 15-lapper and then the 20-lap GP race to come. We caught up to lappers in the shorter 10-lap race today, so it'll be even more congested for us tomorrow I think. Back-markers will certainly play a part in who wins."
There is still a long way in the championships to go, with two more races for each class scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday), so there is no time for any individual to be resting on their laurels.
After Sunday's racing, the riders head to round two of the nationals at Teretonga, on the outskirts of Invercargill, next weekend (January 14-15).