Defending New Zealand Superbike champion Andrew Stroud has his work cut out this weekend at the penultimate round of the national Superbike Championship.
His start to the season has been his worst in memory and to win his 10th national title is going to be an uphill struggle over the next two rounds.
Stroud lies in an unfamiliar fifth place on the table, 40.5 points adrift of the series leader, Australian Robbie Bugden. There are 50 points on offer this weekend at Hampton Downs and another 50 at Taupo the following weekend. Stroud will have to grab the lion's share if he wants to haul himself to within touching distance of Bugden and second-placed rider Sloan Frost.
"It's been good to see some of the younger guys starting to go really fast Like Sloan Frost and Nick Cole and John Ross from down South," said Stroud.
"They're certainly getting right up there and it's making it very interesting. And Robbie Bugden is totally on form. I sort of saw that coming as he was up the front at a couple of the Australian rounds last year."
Stroud has been hammered by some bad luck and the odd bad decision. "I haven't had the best of seasons so far, but it's still been good racing," he said.
"The fuel filter was blocked in the first race and then I fell off in the next one. I restarted for the New Zealand Grand Prix from the back of the grid and came through the pack to win it, or so I thought. However, I had only done 60 per cent of the race rather than the required 65 per cent, so no points there.
"Robbie had me pretty much covered at Timaru and I was too optimistic in Invercargill when I went out on slicks on a wet track that just didn't dry as I expected. Being lapped twice by the whole field sure was a new experience."
The Hampton Downs circuit is a relative newcomer to the New Zealand Superbike calendar and, although the riders have experienced the track before, it's different to anything else in the country. It's a fast, open-flowing circuit where the bikes get up to some serious speeds - 300km/h in some cases. "I like Hampton Downs and it is a bit different to anything else we have," Stroud said.
"Every corner is unique and there's quite a bit of elevation change. There're also a number of different lines you can take that will still end up in similar lap times.
"The track is wide, especially the first corner and the last corner where you can run right out into the middle and still come shooting back across the apex on the exit for really good exit speed."
Hampton Downs is one of those circuits where a rider can find exactly the spot to suit his individual race style, unlike some other tracks where there is only one fast line.
"You've got to weigh up whether you're travelling further and longer in order to get through the corner quickly," Stroud said. "You're constantly calculating which is the fastest way around the track."
If Stroud hits his straps and continues to have a fast bike, it is possible he may get one, or two, over Bugden and his other rivals - and be within touching distance of the leaders heading to Taupo next weekend.
He'll have to be on his best game and for the mechanical gremlins to cast an eye in his opponents' direction if he wants to come away with a bag-full of points.
"The bike's great and fast. Pirelli have a new 200mm-wide tyre that puts a lot of traction down, which is going to help. They are made to run with a lower tyre pressure than they used to that allows them to flatten out and leave a big footprint when leaving a corner.
"They also soak up the bumps a lot more, helping traction, so I'm hoping everything will come together."