New Zealand motorsport's rising star Shane Van Gisbergen will be competing against America's best this weekend - but not in a single-seater racing car.
On the contrary, this weekend's ENZED-backed New Zealand ATV MX Champs is the last major 2006-season ATV MX meeting the 17-year-old will compete at before focusing his energies on his next motor racing challenge, the 2006/07 Toyota Racing Series.
Having finished third at his first New Zealand Championship meeting in the Senior ranks in the Hawke's Bay this time last year, and completed a first-ever clean-sweep of the Franklin ATV Club's annual winter MX series, Van Gisbergen is in the best shape physically and mentally he has ever been for a national level ATV MX meeting.
But the Americans, Doug Gust, Harold Goodman and Kory Ellis, are bone fide Superstars in their own country and Van Gisbergen says that because of that predicting how he is going to go is going to be difficult until he lines up alongside them.
'They're full-on works riders who do this for a living," he said this morning." With them, and guys like Ian Ffitch, Roger McDonald and Quinton Palmer in the pack it's not going to be easy, that's for sure."
As an off-shoot of two-wheel motocross, ATV MX remains a fringe sport in this country though defending New Zealand Senior champion Ian Ffitch has helped break it into the mainstream with his efforts behind the handlebars of the one-off hi-tech ATV he races at the annual Race To The Sky Hillclimb in Central Otago at Easter.
Van Gisbergen's seemingly effortless move from the country's natural terrain ATV MX tracks (many of which the four-wheelers share with their two-wheel counterparts) to its sealed circuits has also been good for the sport.
In the two years since the annual SpeedSport magazine Scholarship programme gave the youngster from Auckland's Manukau City his start in single-seater racing cars on sealed circuits he has finished third overall and won the Rookie Of The Year award in the 2004/05 New Zealand Formula First championship and won both the 2005 New Zealand Formula Ford Festival and the 2005/06 New Zealand Formula Ford Championship.
He has also twice won MotorSport NZ's Steel Trophy, for the best performance by an under 21-year-old, been awarded a MotorSport NZ President's Scholarship, won the Auckland Car Club's Denny Hulme Trophy, and last weekend he was named Best Young Driver at the inaugural Autotrader magazine motor industry awards.
This weekend's ENZED NZ ATV MX Champs are being organised by the Canterbury ATV Association. There will be action on the track at Finney's property on Dalbert Rd Amberley on both days, with the track signposted from SH1 at Amberley.