It's Island Championship time again for the country's top KartSport competitors with events in Taranaki and Otago over Labour Weekend.
Both meetings have attracted bumper entries, with over 180 karters heading to the Taranaki Kart Club's Todd Energy Raceway at Waitara for the North Island event and a record 97 set to compete at the Dunedin Kart Club's recently refurbished Silverstream Raceway near Mosgiel.
Twelve class titles will be competed for at the North Island event, 10 at the South Island one. Each meeting will run over three full days with Qualifying Time Trials on Friday and heats, Pre-Finals and Finals on Saturday and Sunday.
Each meeting has attracted a number of defending Island and/or reigning New Zealand champions, and there will be considerable interest at the North Island meeting in the performance of Mitchell Cunningham, the 20-year-old Aucklander who has been competing in Europe for the past two seasons.
The meeting will be a reunion of sorts for the Cunningham family, with two of the three brothers (Mitchell and Aaron) competing, and the third, 2003 World Karting Champion and 2005 United States Indy Pro motor racing series champion Wade, making a special trip home from the United States where he now lives, to support them.
Mitchell Cunningham will be competing in two classes, Formula 100 and Senior 100cc Yamaha Light.
In Formula 100, the elite Senior 100cc class in this country, Mitchell Cunningham will come up against defending North Island champion Phillip Watkins and New Zealand champion William Thomason, both from Wellington. Also expected to be at the front of the field in Formula 100 are Simon Evans from Auckland, Bradley Tyrrell from Tokoroa and Karl Wilson from Wellington.
Driver to beat in the Senior 100cc Yamaha class however is a local, defending North Island champion Lydia Dickinson; with former South Island Rotax Max Light class champion Fiona Hamilton (who is also competing at the meeting) one of the country's top female drivers.
Other drivers to watch out for in the Senior 100cc Yamaha field are last year's North Island Junior Yamaha champion Mathew Wooding from Hamilton, Andrew Hoare and Ryan Bailey from Palmerston North, recent Three-Way series class winner Ben Dallas from Auckland and Hawke's Bay's Zach Zaloum.
NZ #1 Jason Lee will come up against 2006 F125S Series winner Daniel Bray in the F125S class with serious competition expected from Three-Way Series class winner Daniel Eggleton from Pukekohe, Richard Vickers from Auckland and Craig Toy from Hamilton.
Lee is also one of the drivers expected to feature in the Intercontinental C class, where he will again come up against Daniel Bray plus multi-time North Island and New Zealand champion Ryan Grant.
Having moved to Auckland former Christchurch driver Fiona Hamilton is competing in her first North Island Championship meeting in the 125cc Rotax Max Light class this weekend.
That class has attracted one of the biggest entries with favourite status going to two-time New Zealand Rotax Max Challenge series winner Josh Hart from Palmerston North. Set to challenge him is Fiona Hamilton, second-generation drivers Simon Evans and Richard Oxton (both from Auckland), local driver Hamish Scott, and 2005 NZ#1 Paul Cameron.
Lydia Dickinson is not the only Taranaki Kart Club member with an odds-on chance of claiming a North Island trophy or runner-up position this weekend either.
In 125cc Rotax Max Heavy local man Mark Gilmer heads into the weekend carrying the #2NZ plate, while clubmate Steve Boyde is one of the country's top Masters category competitors.
With many of the younger competitors moving up a class between the National Sprint Championship meeting at Easter and the Island ones at Labour Weekend there has been something of a changing of the guard in some of the Junior classes.
However Hamilton's Tyler Richardson is returning to defend his North Island Formula Junior title from - amongst others - Rotax Max Challenge Junior class winners Martin Short of Hamilton and Richard Moore of Auckland, and a host of other top regional level competitors like James Stead, Mathew Kinsman and Tim Vickers from Auckland and Todd Sherley from Hamilton.
The story is the same in Junior 100cc Yamaha where with last year's North Island title holder now competing in the Senior classes the way is now open for the likes of Short, Moore, Stead, Kinsman and Vickers to stake their claim.
Though the older of the two Blomqvist brothers, Tom, has moved to Junior 100cc Yamaha, most of his protagonists have remained in the class below it, Junior 100cc Yamaha Restricted, and defending North Island and New Zealand champion Nick Cassidy from Auckland will again start as favourite.
Up against him are 2005 NZ#1 Mitchell Evans, former NZ Cadet #1 Arie Hutton, Levi Madsen-Prinn, and recent Cadet graduates Paul Blomqvist, Bradley Hicks and Ben Drummond (all Auckland).
Despite the constant exodus Cadet remains as strong as ever for karting's 'new entrants' with recent Three-Way Series class winner Aaron Wilson looking a likely front-runner.
Also expected to feature are fellow KartSport Mt Wellington club members Stephen Kelly, Alex Cassidy, Shaun Grocock and Callum Quinn with competition from Hamilton's Shaun Nicholson and Palmerston North's Bramwell King.
Meanwhile in Dunedin, heading the entry list amongst the Senior (over 17 yrs of age) drivers at this weekend's Roy MacDonald Auto Engineering South Island Sprint Kart Championships are several successful kart-turned-car drivers including Toyota Racing Series race winner Andy Knight and former South Island Pro 7 saloon car class and now Toyota Racing Series rising star Hamish Cross, both from Christchurch.
They are competing in the Senior 100cc Yamaha Light class where they can expect competition from Rachel Thompson and brothers Dyson and Cameron Freeman from Mosgiel, Cody McMaster from Christchurch, John Whelan from Dunedin and Invercargill's Shay Heslin
In the Open class 2005 NZ#1 Regan Carter from Invercargill and 2005 NZ#2 Vicki Saunders from Dunedin meet again with Saunders looking good after finishing a close second - this time to Shay Heslin - in the Open class at the Southern Series meeting.
In the Junior classes New Zealand Junior 100cc Yamaha and Formula Junior champion Matthew Penrose from Rangiora is the form man, but can expect intense competition from joint New Zealand Schools' champions Kane Adcock and Brett Sullivan from Nelson and Chris Cox from Christchurch.
As in Taranaki, Junior 100cc Yamaha Restricted is shaping up as a battle between a number of former Cadet class stars, amongst them recent class winner at Christchurch's Garden City Championship meeting, Luke Kirk, 2005 South Island Cadet class runner-up Darrell Hannah from Nelson, and Southern Series standouts, winner Matthew Allen from Invercargill and runner-up Gary Cooze from Blenheim.
Local Cassidy Mowat is hoping for better luck this year, having been pipped -virtually - at the post at the 2005 South Island title meeting in Nelson after qualifying quickest and winning both heats and the Pre-Final.
There has been no let-up in the competition over the year though so Mowat can expect an equally intense weekend battling Nelson's Scott Manson, Blenheim's Brook Reeve, fellow Dunedin Kart Club member John Schoester and Christchurch's Jordon McDonnell.
KartSport is a safe, affordable motorsport which caters for all ages, with categories for Cadets (6-12yrs), Junior Restricted (10-14 yrs), Juniors (12-17 yrs) and Seniors (15 yrs and over). To find out more about it go to www.kartsport.org.nz