Porsche racing experience: training for Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak veteran Jeff Zwart turns teacher
Porsche racing driver Jeff Zwart with collection of Porsche cars
Ahead of this year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, legendary racer Jeff Zwart has been sharing his racing experience with a new wave of Porsche drivers eager to be crowned King of the Mountain
To give you a sense of the scale of conquering the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, a blast up to the highest summit of the Rocky Mountains’ southern Front Range, let’s begin with some facts.Starting at 4,302m (9,390 feet) above Colorado Springs, drivers race skywards along a circuitous 19.99km-long (12.42 miles) road. Along the way they will negotiate 156 corners – some of which are hairpins, others flat-out kinks, but all requiring deep concentration. During the eight minutes or so it takes the fastest drivers to reach the top, they will have ascended 1,440m (4,720 feet). As they climb higher into the thinner air, the altitude doesn’t just zap engine power (cars produce as much as 30% less power than at the start line) but it slows the reaction times of the drivers, too.
Porsche 935 driven by Jeff Zwart tackles Pikes Peak
Jeff Zwart finished second-in-class at the 2020 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in a Porsche 935
Before 2011, the route to Pikes Peak was along a dirt road, but it has since been paved. Consequently, the lap times have been getting faster ever since. Drivers must balance speed with precision because, at 4,302m (14,115 feet) above sea level, Pikes Peak can punish even the slightest of errors. There are very few guard rails along the course, making this a racing experience that’s not for the faint-hearted.One man who knows this road intimately is Jeff Zwart: film-maker, Porsche collector and Pikes Peak record holder. This is also Jeff’s playground. He lives in nearby Aspen, Colorado.
Porsche 911 driving on Pikes Peak, dust clouds behind
A decade ago, Pikes Peak changed from gravel to a grippier, paved surface, resulting in faster lap times
Since 1994, he has competed at Pikes Peak a total of 18 times, 12 of those behind the wheel of a Porsche 911. Along the way, he has picked up eight class wins. Just last year, Jeff brought home a stunning second-in-class podium finish in a Porsche 935.This year, as he has done for the past four, Jeff will coach a roster of Porsche drivers as they prepare to take on one of motorsport’s most daunting challenges.Sharing his racing experienceSwapping his helmet for anecdotes and advice, Jeff will share his unrivalled knowledge and racing experience with the participants of the Porsche Pikes Peak Trophy by Yokohama as they prepare for the Race to the Clouds.
Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport tackles a bend at Pikes Peak
Kathryn Mead, Pikes Peak’s Rookie of the Year in 2020, ascends the hill climb in a Cayman GT4 Clubsport
Students they might be, but the roll call reads like a motorsport Who’s Who. Tanner Foust, the multi-talented drift, rally and stunt driver is among Jeff’s pupils, as is last’s year’s Pikes Peak Rookie of the Year, Kathryn Mead, and veteran of the course, George Hess III, who returned in 2020 after a sabbatical. All will compete in this one-make class behind the wheel of a Cayman GT4 Clubsport.Pikes Peak: sensory overload It is Jeff’s job to share his unrivalled knowledge and racing experience. “I’ve learned so many things here, so this is about pulling back the curtain and showing these teams and drivers my process on racing at Pikes Peak, which hasn’t really changed much,” he explains.“When I get them on my home turf, on my mountain, I take what they know and what I know, and meld that together so it’s the best possible result for them for the week.”
Old Porsche 944 Turbo magazine advertisement spread
As well as racing Porsche, Jeff created some of the brand’s most iconic print adverts in the 1980s and 1990s
For aspiring Pikes Peakers, does Jeff have a top tip? “I tell people not to think about it as a whole mountain until race day. You never actually drive the whole mountain until then, so during practice only focus on the sections you're working on otherwise it's sensory overload. The other thing I tell people is that it's a place to be proactive, not reactive.”
Pikes Peak is a living organism
Jeff Zwart | Porsche racing driver, collector and film director
How hard is it to race at Pikes Peak? For a veteran like Jeff, there are two things you can’t prepare for when it comes to the racing experience – the weather and the terrain. “In the 18 years I’ve been there, there’s never been two years that have been alike,” he says of the hill climb. He describes the road as a “living organism”. A bump that was used a reference point one year, disappears the next, he says. Or the tree you used as a marker for a braking point is no longer there. One other notable thing with such extreme elevation changes is the weather. As Jeff notes, it’s not unusual to experience 30 degrees of temperature differences during a run or gale-force winds at the top and absolute calm at the bottom.
Porsche 911 and 914 parked outside a wooden garage
Jeff has been a keen Porsche collector from a young age and still has the first car he ever bought, a yellow 914 (pictured above right)
“That requires a lot of adaptability from a driver. But it also gives drivers like me who have been there for so many years an advantage because there is a lot to learn,” says Jeff.As for Porsche, Jeff believes its cars are particularly suited to this kind of racing experience. “Porsche has its roots in hill climbs,” he says. “The 911 in particular is really well suited to them. It’s rear engine, rear-wheel drive, so the weight over the rear axle is really conducive to doing well at hill climbs because you’re climbing up the mountain, accelerating out of hairpins – things that need great traction.”When he’s not coaching or racing at Pikes Peak, Jeff is an accomplished commercial film director and photography, having helped create some of the most memorable Porsche adverts of the past few decades. He’s also been fortunate enough to collect a formidable collection of Porsche, including a 906 and the 914 he bought in high school. But whether he’s working, racing or relaxing, one thing remains central to his life: his passion for Porsche.