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By March 14, 2014April 27th, 20212014 News

Team Hammer got its first race of the 2014 AMA Pro Road Racing season under its belt on Friday while also locking down final grid positions for Saturday’s Daytona 200.

The team’s Daytona SportBike contenders continued to make progress as they prepare for Saturday’s grueling 200-mile battle.

M4 Racing’s Joe Roberts made significant strides again on Friday. His upward climb continued unabated, as he leapt up to 18th in qualifying after crashing twice and ranking 31st and then 24th in practice on Thursday. As a result of his 1:53.151 lap, the 16-year-old will start his Honda CBR600RR from the outside of Row 6 while making his first career appearance in the prestigious event.

Phenom Roberts, who went a perfect five-for-five during last season’s AMA Pro SuperSport debut, said, “We got down to a little better time today, which is good, but we’re still off what want to be doing. We’re slowly getting there and getting this bike to where I like it. Hopefully tomorrow I can get a good start. The Daytona 200 is a long race — hopefully I can get up there.”

The Daytona 200’s tactics and pit stops will prove to be a very new, very different experience for Roberts, who admitted, “This will be the first endurance race I’ve ever done apart from something on a mini-bike. It should be interesting.”

GEICO Motorcycle Road Racing’s Jake Zemke, the 2006 Daytona 200 winner, ran almost two seconds quicker today in qualifying than he managed in Friday’s free practice sessions. The Californian put his Honda CBR600RR on the outside of Row 5 with the 15th best time of the day at 1:52.717.

MPH’s Melissa Paris, who finished 10th in the 2013 Daytona 200, also improved her speed today. She posted a best time of 1:56.451 and will start from 30thposition aboard her Team Hammer Contract Services-prepared Honda CBR600RR.

All three will look to continue their improvement and claw up through the field during tomorrow’s big test — a 57-lap race that demands a combination of speed, endurance, strategy, and luck to succeed.

Meanwhile, GEICO Motorcycle Road Racing’s Chris Ulrich started well in Friday’s AMA Pro Superbike season opener, but was punted off the track by an over-eager competitor. After regaining the pavement, Ulrich battled his way forward 19th position on the opening lap to take the checkered flag in 13th.

Ulrich will be back at it on Saturday in the weekend’s second Superbike race, which will precede the afternoon’s Daytona 200.