All bets are off for the four-round New Zealand Motocross Championships that kick off on Saturday at the Backflips Track, near Pleasant Point.
The defending champions are the favourites to reclaim their respective trophies, but only just, with an assortment of exciting talent lining up and all of them very capable of snatching the silverware away.
Mt Maunganui's national MX1 champion Cody Cooper was impressive in pre-season hit-outs toward the end of 2013, winning the Waikato Motocross Championships and the New Zealand Supercross Championships, although he had his work cut out to win the New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville just over a week ago.
Honda's Cooper will have a huge fight on his hands throughout the national series as he battles with riders such as Taupo's Brad Groombridge (Suzuki), Waitakere's Ethan Martens (Yamaha), Paraparaumu's Jesse Donnelly (Kawasaki) and Christchurch's Justin McDonald (Honda).
What is perhaps more likely is that the international riders flooding into the country may pose an even bigger threat.
Scotsman Billy MacKenzie (Yamaha) and Australians Kirk Gibbs and Ford Dale (both KTM) are not coming to New Zealand for a holiday; they're coming to win.
MX2 class champion Scott Columb (Yamaha) has looked strong in recent outings but the Queenstown rider hasn't always had everything go his way and he can expect fireworks when he battles riders such as Mt Maunganui's Rhys Carter (Suzuki), Auckland's Hamish Dobbyn (KTM), Rotorua's John Phillips (Honda), Tauranga's Peter Broxholme (Honda), Hamilton's Darryll King (Yamaha), Dunedin's Campbell King (Suzuki) and Australian Jay Wilson (Yamaha).
Mangakino's Kayne Lamont (Husqvarna) was a convincing winner of the MX2 class at the Woodville GP a week ago and he must now rate as one of the favourites to win the MX2 class this Saturday.
With 2013 national 125cc and under-21 champion Cameron Vaughan moving out of the class, it leaves a small void in the small bike class but one that has been very quickly filled in recent weeks by national 125cc No 2 Logan Blackburn (Yamaha).
Te Puke's Blackburn is heavily favoured to lift the 125cc crown this season.
He will first have to survive the expected onslaught from such talented young rising stars as Atiamuri's national junior champion Hadleigh Knight, Hamilton's Josiah Natzke (KTM), Christchurch's Dylan Walsh (KTM), Tauranga's Aaron Wiltshire (KTM), Ngatea's Ben Broad (Yamaha), New Caledonia's Laurent Fath (Yamaha) and England's Rob Holyoake (Husqvarna).
Also returning from injury is Kiwi international Courtney Duncan (Yamaha) from Palmerston.
Following the Timaru event, the series heads to Tokoroa for round two on February 23.
- © Fairfax NZ News