Tauranga's Ben Townley is making a full-throttle return to the international motocross scene, but the 2004 MX2 world champion insists he's still retired from full-time professional racing.
This weekend Townley, 30, begins a six-week racing campaign that will take him to Australia, the US and France and back to racing at the highest level of the sport.
After a series of injuries Townley made his retirement call in early 2013, but said he would continue to race for fun. Providing the catalyst for the latest campaign was an impressive "just for fun" outing at the Rotorua round of the NZ Champs back in March that produced a podium finish.
"I really enjoyed Rotorua. I did no training in the lead-up, but I got good starts and found it all came back to me - other than the strength and fitness. I knew I still had the skills to be competitive so I started to make a lot more effort."
Townley made an appearance for the Penrite Honda team in the Australian MX1 Championship at Coolum in late May - taking a moto win and an overall podium - and scored a third consecutive win at the Tarawera 100 endurance race in July.
He also put his name forward for the New Zealand team to race at the Motocross of Nations teams event next month and his selection was recently confirmed.
"I did three months of cardio training off the bike and then I've really hit it back on the bike in the last month or so. I've improved my strength and fitness, worked on my diet and dropped a bit of weight."
The practice sessions have seen him team up with fellow Honda rider and multiple New Zealand MX1 champion Cody Cooper (Papamoa). "Cody and I have been joined at the hip for about the last month. It's really good, Cody is flying at the moment and he's the hare that I'm chasing."
The final two rounds of the Australian MX Nationals at Toowoomba this weekend and at Coolum on August 30 will begin Townley's campaign.
After a short return home Townley and Cooper will fly to California where Townley will race at the final round the MX1 World Championship at Glen Helen Raceway near San Bernadino. "Cody is coming to train and help me in California. Then on the Monday after Glen Helen we fly to France for the Motocross of Nations the next weekend."
Townley and Cooper are teamed with Mangakino's Kayne Lamont - currently racing the British Championship - for the international teams event at the Ernee track.
"The MX of Nations is my favourite event. It has such a great history and it gets the biggest crowd of the season with an amazing atmosphere," says Townley. "As a motocross rider it's the only chance to represent your country and there are only three riders who get to do it each year."
Townley insists getting a taste of racing isn't part of a plan for a fulltime return. "Not at this stage."