The 2021 New Zealand Superbike Championships (NZSBK) power up in Christchurch this weekend and so will begin the battle to find the nation's best motorcycle road racers across half a dozen separate bike categories.
Christchurch's Alastair Hoogenboezem may be the defending national superbike champion and Whakatane's Mitch Rees may have ruled the 1000cc class during the three-round pre-nationals series in December (Suzuki Series), but neither rider can afford to rest on their laurels.
Riders such as Taupo's national No 2 Scott Moir, Glen Eden's Daniel Mettam, Rangiora's Jake Lewis and Wellington's Sloan Frost are poised to strike, along with Whanganui duo Richie Dibben and Jayden Carrick.
For Barracks Sports Bar-sponsored Dibben, last season's F2 600 Supersport champion on debut in the class, it's all about coming to grips with his GSXR 1000cc Suzuki and the step up to superbikes.
Dibben's debut in the class was the Suzuki Series where he finished a creditable seventh over the three rounds.
"I was happy enough with my form, but there is still some work to do fine tuning the bike," Dibben said.
"I found I was having to work a bit harder to stay with the others in the Suzuki Series, but once we get the tweaking right, we'll be away."
The pre-nationals Suzuki International Series in December was the perfect competition for the latest model bikes to be aired, for new teams to present themselves and for riders to find out where they stand before the serious business of the nationals.
The four-round 2021 New Zealand Superbike Championships opens with the Underground Brown-sponsored opening round at Mike Pero Motorsport Park, at Ruapuna, Christchurch, on Saturday and Sunday, January 9-10, with the FabTech and Trust Aoraki-sponsored second round following swiftly afterwards, just one week later, at Levels International Raceway, near Timaru, on January 16-17.
There is a month-long break after this South Island phase of the series, with racing set to resume in the North Island, with the Mike Pero-sponsored MotoFest, round three at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, near Meremere, on March 6-7, before wrapping up with round four at Taupo's Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park on March 13-14.
This is a growth area for the sport, where riders will develop and hone their craft, possibly to later become champions on 600cc and 1000cc machines.
Motorcycling New Zealand road-race commissioner Grant Ramage said he was looking forward to what he expects will be another closely-fought season.
"It's almost impossible to predict class winners, such is the depth of talent we have in this country," he said. "We know also that, now unrestrained by pandemic lockdown conditions, the riders will be thrilled to be able to commit and express themselves on the race track as best they know how."
He said he was grateful also for the support the road-race community was again receiving from New Zealand businesses and from the wider community too.
The various other classes in the nationals this year are: Superbike B (support class), Supersport 300, 250 Production (support class, round one only), 650 Pro Twin, GIXXER Cup 150, Supersport 150 and Sidecars.
2021 NZ Superbike Championships calendar:
Round 1 – January 9-10, Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Christchurch;
Round 2 – January 16-17, Levels International Raceway, Timaru;
Round 3 – March 6-7, Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, North Waikato, Mike Pero MotoFest;
Round 4 – March 13-14, Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo.