Photography by Larry Lawrence
DAYTONA BEACH, FL, MARCH 14 - Most 16 year olds tend to have a growth spurt and even though Joe Roberts isn’t your ordinary 16-year-old, nature took its course during the off-season and the Team Hammer rider grew at least two inches.
“I’ve grown a few inches,” Roberts said prior to his first practice session at Daytona International Speedway yesterday. “I’ve got to stop growing. I’m like 5’9”… no, not 5’ 10”. I can’t say I’m 5’ 10. I think I was 5’ 7”.
“I have to start smoking or something,” Roberts joked.
Prior to yesterday’s two practice sessions for the Daytona SportBike class, Roberts was upbeat and confident. After all, he had dominated the Supersport races he took part in during his off weekends from the Red Bull Rookies Cup events in Europe.
“I’m feeling really confident,” Roberts said. “How I did last year really shows what my standard is of riding and I’m real excited to get out here on the bike and do my first Daytona 200. It’s going to be really great.
“We’ve done a few tests on the new bike and it all looks really positive. I’m loving the bike as much as last year so hopefully we can get the same results as last year.”
Unfortunately, Roberts debut day on his Daytona SportBike-spec Honda CBR600RR didn’t go as planned. An oil leak in the first session caused the bike to catch fire and he only completed six laps. In the afternoon session, Roberts crashed and then sat on pit road awaiting repairs – which many found ironic considering his team owner John Ulrich was the lead proponent of the one-bike rule. Roberts got only six more laps in once the repairs were done.
“It’s got a different spec of engine because it’s a Daytona SportBike so that’s definitely something that’s new,” Roberts said prior to Thursday’s sessions. “The bike’s a little bit different as far as what they did for 2014 compared to 2012, but it’s nothing major.”
The youngster was looking forward to the move up in class, but was unsure how he’d fare.
“You’ve got so many fast riders out here and the field is so deep, I’ve got no idea,” Roberts said. “I’m just going to go out and do the best I can and hopefully that puts me at the front. I’d like to be up there battling for the lead in the 200.”