Team Hammer officially kicked off the 2014 race season on Thursday as the AMA Superbikes and Daytona SportBikes hit the high banks at Daytona International Speedway for the AMA Pro Road Racing opener.
GEICO Motorcycle Racing’s Chris Ulrich enjoyed a particularly promising day to start his ’14 campaign. Showing excellent form aboard his Superbike-spec Honda CBR1000RR, Ulrich ranked inside the top ten in both practice and provisional qualifying.
The Californian was immediately up to speed following a long offseason, posting the sixth fastest time in the morning’s Superbike free practice at 1:42.786. He came back out in the afternoon and upped his pace further, hustling around the historic venue with a time of 1:41.566 despite losing track time due to a punctured tire. That placed Ulrich ninth on the day’s overall order and on the provisional third row.
“We got off to a solid start,” Ulrich said. “Instead of screwing around with engine braking settings we’re working on the bike. It’s really fun actually after a frustrating season a year ago. It was really positive today. I went P6 this morning and P9 this afternoon. I’m pleased for the way everything is progressing, and we’re talking about chassis setting changes that are going to move the bike forward instead of doing a ‘Hail Mary’ on engine braking settings.
“I’m definitely happy. I’m actually enjoying myself and looking forward to a scrap tomorrow. I think we’ll be ready. Honestly, I was a little nervous coming in this weekend but after the first session it was a big weight lifted off me. We can look at the bike and the data and improve some things tomorrow morning and try to move up the order.”
“I’m glad that last year is behind us and we’re looking forward. The bike is more to the point where I can realize my potential instead of just pound my head against the wall.”
Team Hammer will field a talented trio of Daytona SportBike contenders in this weekend’s Daytona 200. GEICO Motorcycle Racing’s Jake Zemke won the prestigious 200-miler in 2006, MPH’s Melissa Paris finished in the top ten in last year’s Daytona 200, and M4 SportbikeTrackGear.com Racing’s Joe Roberts went a perfect five-for-five in AMA SuperSport competition last season while making his AMA Pro debut.
On Thursday, the Daytona SportBikes participated in a pair of free practices but the team was unable to perform to their usual high standard. Zemke was 13th in the opening session at 1:55.096 and lowered his time to 1:54.688 to rank 18th in the second practice while dealing with some technical issues.. Meanwhile, Paris put her Team Hammer Contract Services-prepared Honda CBR600RR 24th (1:57.475) and 26th(1:56.548) on the day despite two crashes, one in each session.
And 16-year-old Roberts saw dramas as well. After the five-time SuperSport winner noticed oil on his boot from a blown seal, he pulled over to the side of the track only to have his bike catch fire. Roberts was 31st in the opening session at 2:00.160. He improved during his next opportunity, dropping his mark down to 1:55.900 to finish the day in 24th despite a crash in that session.
On Friday, Ulrich will secure his final starting position in the morning and then compete in the 15-lap AMA Superbike season opener in the afternoon. Meanwhile, Team Hammer’s Daytona SportBike contingent will take part in two qualifying sessions to set the grid ahead of Saturday’s 73rd running of the Daytona 200.