Gilroy driver Mike Hill has a few adjustments made to his car

By Paul Doherty Sports Editor San Jose – Gilroy’s Mike Hill and
Morgan Hill’s Garland Self experience car problems in the Formula
BMW circuit and Historic Stock Car Series.
By Paul Doherty Sports Editor

San Jose – Gilroy’s Mike Hill and Morgan Hill’s Garland Self experience car problems in the Formula BMW circuit and Historic Stock Car Series.

Saturday proved to be an electrifying and trying day for South County’s 2007 San Jose Grand Prix racing representatives Mike Hill and Garland Self.

Slides, dings, T-bone accidents, and twisted metal ruled the day as neither Hill nor Self completed a race during the three-day event, which wrapped up Sunday.

Historic Stock Car Racing Series

At the end of a hairy qualifying race on Friday for the Historic Stock Car Racing Series, Morgan Hill native Garland Self began having a brake issue where his pedal was lowering all the way down to the floor.

The HSCRS features cars that belong to a specific era of racing between 1981 and 1994.

Self had to pump the brake pedal in his No. 15 1994 Ford Thunderbird to get it up again while going down the main straightaway at 165 mph.

“So we bled (drained the fluid) the brakes thinking that would take care of the issue, but after a practice run this morning we quickly realized it did not resolve anything,” Self said.

This gave Self and team a small window of time to figure out the problem and fix it.

After recognizing a major brake problem, one of Self’s crew had to drive back to their garage in Morgan Hill to pick up the necessary parts, and then drive back and start work on the car.

“Right now they’re doing a complete brake caliber/rotor change, and they have to get it done in an hour and a half,” Self said.

With the Historic Race time slated for 4:55-5:40pm, Self’s pit crew, sponsored by the San Jose-based Selco heating and air conditioning company, worked dilligently to change the brake rotors and get the car back into racing shape.

Placing eighth in the qualilfier, Self knew it would be a difficult challenge to move up, but was not ruling anything out.

“It’s not impossible, but it’s going to be difficult to get up through the field,” Self said. “I would hope to get up to forth or third, but you never know … you got to shoot for first place if you’re out here.”

From the start of the Historic race, Self di not let earlier problems hold back, and was on a mission advance in the race.

By the fourth lap he moved into seventh place, by the sixth lap he moved into fifth place, and by the eighth lap he moved into third place and was closing in on second.

Then on turn one, the hairpin turn that slowed down drivers in every series throughout the weekend, officials black flagged Self because they said he made contact with the No. 75 car, also a 1994 Ford Thunderbird, driven by Fred Cziska.

A driver who receives a black flag is forced to pit and face a time penalty.

“Going into (turn) one, the car in front of me backed up and I might have touched him, maybe not,” Self said. “So about four laps later, in their infinite wisdom, they decided to black flag me, and I already worked up to second place.”

Self came down the main stretch, offficials looked at his car, shrugged their shoulders, and not seeing any body damage, quickly let him back into the race.

“I’d like to congratulate the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) workers for doing such a fine job this weekend,” Self said. “In this group they say there’s no body contact … but there’s contact and then there’s contact.”

Being far behind the pack, Self considered just calling it a day and not completing the race, but his pit crew chief urged him to finish.

“At the end of the race I let the leaders go by because that’s what you do,” Self said. “Then the third and fourth-place car were coming and I let them get in a safe place.”

After allowing the third and fourth-place cars pass the fourth-place car abruptly lost control and spun out in front of Self.

“Cutting across I was able go to the right and avoid him, but my car hooked up and shot me straight into the wall.” he said. “And I t-boned into the wall.”

Self walked away from the crash uninjured, but his car was totaled.

The right side of the front end was smashed in, as well as the right rear end.

“This is easily tens of thousands of dollars in damage,” Self’s wife, Debbie, said.

As his car was being pulled onto a tow truck, Self just hung back in his paddock area with a mixed drink in hand.

“Come out here next year, it’ll be much better,” he promised.

While the turnout was a bit smaller than last year, the 2007 San Jose Grand Prix drew more than 150,000 people, according to preliminary estimates by race officials.

The main event Champ Car race proved to be a thrilling victory for rookie Robert Doornbos, 25, from the Netherlands.

Doornbos, starting shotgun on the field in the 15th spot, made a remarkable comeback after what looked like a race-ending crash in lap one, to win the 2007 San Jose Grand Prix with a winning margin of 6.145 seconds.

Formula BMW

Race one of the Formula BMW USA series started out promising for Hill, 17, as he went from 11th to seventh place, but the momentum came to an abrupt stop when the Gilroy native quickly noticed some kind of technical problem with the brakes.

“Going into the very first turn of the first lap, which is a very heavy braking zone I hit the brake pedal and noticed that I had a problem with the brakes,” Hill said. “And I had no brake, that was the case.

So I locked up the front tires and slid into the car in front of me, and definitely ruined my wing.”

The nose cone of his inline four-cylinder BMW was also severely indented as Hill unintentionally broke into the driver in front of him.

Initially, Hill thought that a lack of down force due to the damaged wing was causing the problem, but after a lap he realized that the brake bias was adjusted too strongly to the front, he said.

Using a pulley system inside the cockpit, Hill tried to transfer brake force from the front brakes to the back brakes, but he noticed that the lever used to adjust them was also broken.

Not that far from behind the leading pack, Hill would try and compete, but would have to pit after his fifth lap.

“I really couldn’t figure out a way around it,” Hill said. “The car was getting torn up and it was vibrating really badly and it was getting worse and worse.”

The San Jose Grand Prix is the only street course on the Formula BMW circuit, and drivers encounter low grip pavement, manhole covers, railroad crossings, and tunnels of concrete barriers along their path.

“Not only is the course narrow, but right on the edge of the track is a concrete wall,” Hill said. “I’s really easy to clip a wall … it’s a matter of millimeters, and if you make one mistake by an inch, your car could be totaled.”

Unwavering in his confidence, but feeling out the newness of a streetcourse, Hill was optimistic about and looking forward to race two on Sunday.

“I’m hoping to maybe get a few positions again early in the race tomorrow, and bring home a trophy,” he said.

Starting out in the pit lane at 15th place for race two, Hill could not make up any room again facing technical problems.

On the 11th and 12th laps the six and fifth gears of his No. 53 BMW’s transmission failed, and by the 13th lap the fourth gear almost went out.

“The transmission basically grenaded itself,” Hill said. “The technical problems plagued us all weekend, and it was a pretty bad showing for me in front of the home crowd.”

With four races left on the Formula BMW series, two each at Road America race course in Elkhart, Wisc. and at Mosport International Raceway in Bowmanville, Ontario Canada, Hill hopes to bounce back and move up a few positions from his 11th-place standing based on points for the whole racing season.

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