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Video: Jeff Zwart's Pikes Peak run with commentary

Monday, July 28, 2014

Every year racers from around the globe flock to Pikes Peak International Hillclimb in Colorado, including photographer, commercial director, and seven-time Pikes Peak champion Jeff Zwart. Since his record-setting run up the "hill" in 2010 in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, a lot has changed.

Back then the course was a mix of pavement and gravel, and Zwart used Pirelli road-race rain tires to put the power down. In 2011, his weapon of choice was a bone-stock (except for safety upgrades) 911 GT2 RS, whose turbocharged motor made a reliable 620 horsepower the whole way up the mountain. In 2013 the course was fully paved, so Zwart brought back the Cup car from 2010's run with two key upgrades: turbocharged power and racing slicks. Bad weather prevented him from unleashing the car's full potential near the top of the mountain, resulting in a third-in-class finish. This year he brought the same turbocharged GT3 Cup with revised gear ratios and made his quickest run up the hill ever — despite encountering a fuel pump problem that forced him into a second-place finish, behind a 2009 911 GT3 RS driven by Porsche Carrera Cup France driver Vincent Beltoise.

Zwart was kind enough to recap this year's race for (below), which goes well with the two videos of his run (also below). Enjoy! Tell us a bit about your timed run up Pikes Peak this year and the preparation that went into it.

Jeff Zwart: For this year at Pikes Peak, we ran the same car as we did last year. We had such an amazing car in 2013 but did not get to show its potential, so this year we wanted to come back and try to break the record. 

We tested at Willow Springs to make sure that the car was performing as we all remembered and made some gearbox changes based on last year. We lengthened the gears so I was not quite as busy in the car, and other than fresh compounds from Michelin, the car remained the same. BBI Autosport was back on board for prepping and running the car, so I felt confident about our effort for this year.

What went right? What went wrong?

Actually EVERYTHING went right until race day. We had 13 practice runs and we were fastest in all 13 runs. On qualifying I ended up beating the qualifying record and we went quickest. The new compounds from Michelin brought the balance of the car around to being even better than last year. And lastly the gear ratios we tried were perfect for our new higher speeds for this year. On race day we had a fuel pump issue that created uneven fuel pressure, which resulted in fuel starvation on boost — which made for a frustrating run to the summit.

Compare this year’s run to last year’s run.

Last year's run felt like it would be really good, but then about a third of the way up I started experiencing the famous Pikes Peak summer weather. It’s so changeable at 14,000 feet, so it can consist of sun, rain, hail, and snow, all in a matter of minutes. Last year's run fell apart quickly. This year the whole lead up had been perfect, so our expectations were high. I left the line and when I pulled third gear there was a slight stumble and I thought, “hmmm, that’s strange.” About a third of the way up I felt it again and it just started getting worse and worse. By the time I approached the summit, it was really missing (misfiring), and coming on boost would result in a pretty strong shudder that would jerk the whole car or just take my foot flat to the floor with no power at all. When I arrived at the summit, I felt I had lost too much time and pretty much knew that we had not won. The killer was that we lost by just 1.2 seconds.  

What is your favorite Pikes Peak drive since your 2010 run in the naturally aspirated Cup car?

This car I ran this year is an absolute monster in the very best way. It delivers 700+horsepower from the starting line clear to the summit at 14,110 feet. It is an absolute blast to drive. The team from BBI run a fantastic program that was so well carried out and made the car so much fun to drive. We used tire warmers and ran the car on E-85 — it’s just an amazing setup to make just the one run that counts to get the top of the mountain. Nobody could have predicted that a fuel pump would go, but even with that fuel pump not working properly I went faster than I ever had at Pikes Peak.

Are you planning to run next year? If so, what are your plans so far?

Next year is too far off. For now we have to just look forward and remember what an incredible car the GT3 Turbo Cup is. It’s a great event, but it’s a good reminder of how fragile it is. As a driver, I dream of the 156 turns that make the mountain so magical. As a team, we know that everyone did what we could, but we just got caught out on a very small part in the scope of things. I have about ten more months to think about things for next year, so we will see.

Compilation video:

In-car video of timed run:

Photo: Porsche
Videos: YouTube

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