Jeff Zwart’s legacy at Pikes Peak

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Jeff Zwart is a modern-day Renaissance man. His career as a photographer has led to him photographing nearly every major motorsport event for the most well recognized automotive media outlets, as well as photographing many of the most iconic print media advertisements for manufacturers such as Acura, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and of course, Porsche. He’s photographed fighter jets for the U.S. Navy from the backseat of another fighter jet. His work as a filmmaker has led him to work on numerous television commercials and short films, from the Panamera commercial where 60 years of truly legendary Porsche models raced across a dry desert lake bed to filming an F1 “Road Trip” with Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull RB7 cruising along on public roads. On its own, this would be an incredible resume for two separate people, let alone a single man, but Jeff still manages to find time to work as the creative advisor for 000 magazine and assist in the curation of Lüftgekuhlt. 

A day in the life of Jeff Zwart.

In addition to Jeff’s multifaceted creative career, he’s been able to add his success as a race car driver to the list. To top his list of achievements, he has etched his name forever into the history books at one of the most notorious hill climb races of all time- the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb. He’s a 16-time PPIHC entrant and Pikes Peak Hall-of Fame inductee with 8 class wins and three class records, and has driven 12 different Porsches to the peak. At 12.5 miles long with over 156 turns, unpredictable weather conditions, and finishing at an altitude of 14,115 ft, it is one of the most technical and demanding races in the world. 

His fascination with motorsports began during his time living and studying in Germany, where he was able to attend events at Zandvoort, the Dutch Grand Prix, and to Le Mans just to name a few. During one of the Mazda campaigns he was working on, he became friends with Rod Millen who convinced Jeff to let him build a Mazda rally car to enter the US ProRally Championships. The introduction of the 964 Carrera 4 sparked the idea to start running in rallies in a 911. His existing relationship with Porsche allowed him to put together a program with them over the course of 2 years, and all of the parts from the Paris Dakar program were secured. A short-geared, 125 mile per hour gearbox was secured, as well as the differentials and adjustable torque system were installed on Jeff’s Carrera 4. After some trials and tribulations with the suspension, a complete revision and the addition of an off-road style suspension, Jeff began winning rallies and ended up finishing 2nd in the national championships for the 1994 season. 

That same year, Porsche proposed running Pikes Peak. The 300-horsepower, naturally aspirated 3.8 liter engine that he had been running was swapped out by Andial and Porsche Motorsport for a single-turbo, 550 horsepower motor that Porsche had used in the IMSA series. From his experience in rally racing and having already spent many hours both on and above the mountain for different commercials, Jeff was already familiar with the surface of the road and could visualize the corners from his time spent in helicopters. It proved to be quite the advantage, and Jeff took the win in his class with an impressive time of 11:53.48. It was the first of Jeff’s win at the Peak, but certainly not the last. 

Jeff on his way to his first Pikes Peak victory in 1994. Photo: Rupert Berrington

In 1995, he raced the brand new, essentially showroom stock 993 Turbo that had been displayed at the New York. Auto Show. Prior to the race, it was prepared by Dieter Inzenhofer of Andial. On July 4, 1996, Zwart drove another Valvoline-liveried 993 Turbo up Pikes Peak to a 1st Place finish in the High Performance Showroom Stock (HPSS) class, with a blistering time of 12 minutes and 34 seconds. It was around that time that Porsche mentioned to Jeff “We have a hard time marketing your success at Pikes Peak, because you’re sponsored by Valvoline. It would be great if you could get on board with one of our original equipment sponsorships. It’d be a better partnership from a marketing sense.” From then on, a partnership was formed with Mobil One running the latest and greatest models from Porsche. 

By 2002, the first mile of the race was paved with the remainder of the course still all dirt. Jeff took on a new challenge- running a 2 wheel drive GT2 with 450 horsepower. He made his way to the top, sliding through the loose dirt turns in 12:48.300 and breaking Rhys Millen’s record for the 2wd HPSS class. In 2004, he added another victory at Pikes Peak to his growing list-along with a win at the Baja 1000 the same year. 

In 2010 Jeff once again made Pikes Peak history by pitting a 997 GT3 Cup car against the mountain- much of which was still not paved. He smashed the previous Time Attack class record in his sprint up to the summit and claimed his seventh championship. Coming into 2011, everything from the start line to Devil’s Playground had been paved, essentially 76% of the course. Jeff drove his 2011 GT2 RS street car from in Santa Ana California to Pikes Peak- a 1,132-mile journey. Upon arriving at the mountain, the GT2 RS was fitted with slicks, a first for Jeff. 

Pikes Peak was fully paved from the start line to the summit by 2012, and for the 2013 PPIHC Jeff’s 2010 GT3 Cup received a howling 800 horsepower, twin-turbo engine. The addition of turbocharging helped to alleviate the troubles that the naturally aspirated engine faced at such extreme altitudes, and Jeff’s times up the mountain saw consistent improvement. In 2014, Jeff and the turbocharged GT3 Cup missed out on glory by less than two seconds due to fueling issues in the final sections, but in 2015 he returned in top form and finished in a spectacular time of 9:46.245, making him the 13th person ever to finish in under 10 minutes. 

Jeff’s GT3 Cup Turbo racing to a 9:46.245 finish.
2015 PPIHC film by Will Rogge

This year, Jeff will be running the Ingram Collection/Road Scholars 935-19 after a five-year hiatus to focus on coaching the GT4 Clubsport class at Pikes Peak. Joel Seeley of Emotion Engineering is overseeing setup, testing, and tuning for Jeff. 935-19 weighs in at just 3,042 lbs and is powered by the 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six engine shared with the GT2 RS Clubsport. Jeff recently commented on his expectations on running the new 935 at Pikes Peak in an interview with Porsche during testing at Willow Springs Raceway. “It will be a bit strange to race at Pikes Peak so late in the summer, rather than the usual June date. I am anticipating the weather conditions to be a little more tricky but trying to read the weather has always been a part of Pikes Peak. Our last Pikes Peak car was something that we built combining a turbo engine with a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race car. I really look forward to driving a full factory-built package with the latest upgrades and in the 935 bodywork. It should really be something special to drive.”

Given Jeff’s incredible history at Pikes Peak and intimate knowledge of the mountain, we are excited to witness another historic moment in his career and hope to see him add a 28th class victory for Porsche.

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