Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 10:51AM

June 30, 2010


Excellence in the Clouds.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

This past Sunday marked the 88th running of the "Race to the Clouds" - the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb - the second oldest motorsports race in America after the Indianapolis 500.  After smashing the qualifying record for the Time Attack class earlier in the weekend by 18 seconds, Jeff Zwart - driving the No. 111 Porsche Motorsport North America Luminox Watches Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car fitted with Pirelli P Zero racing tires - obliterated the existing Time Attack class record by a staggering 38 seconds in his official race-day run up the challenging 12.42-mile mountain course on Sunday.  It was Jeff’s seventh triumph on the 156-turn hill climb layout as he humbled a full field of two- and four-wheel drive competitors.

Zwart's 911 - a rear-wheel-drive 2007 GT3 Cup car updated to 2010 specs - was the only Porsche competing at Pikes Peak.  It was also the fastest production-based car of the event, and Jeff’s time of 11:31.095 was the sixth fastest overall behind three Unlimited Class and two Open Wheel cars, which all produced at least 600-plus horsepower. The legendary hill climb course begins at 9,390 feet, finishes at the 14,110 foot summit of Pikes Peak and features a surface that is paved near the beginning and the end but for the majority of the course is made up of gravel. Remarkably, the P Zero tires that Zwart used for his record run were actually wet-weather Pirellis that have been used successfully in Grand-Am Rolex Series GT competition since 2008.

It's my pleasure to say that Jeff is a longtime "FoA" (Friend of the Autoextremist) and every time Jeff achieves success in whatever he does it makes me get a big grin on my face. I first got to know Jeff when I was working on the Pontiac account in the early 80s and we were looking to inject some life into Pontiac's print advertising (it had grown stale and predictable over the years before I got involved). I began to notice Jeff's excellent photography in Road & Track and I was convinced he could give us the look and feel we were looking for, and once we enlisted Jeff's services he delivered exactly that and more. There were many highlights along the way, but I think Jeff would agree that by far the most fun we ever had on a shoot was when we ended up in Germany at the Nürburgring Nordschleife for a 10-day assignment for a new high-performance campaign for General Tire. It was an absolute blast and one of the most memorable experiences in my entire ad career.

As I became much more involved in television commercial production I started bugging Jeff to pick-up a motion camera and give it a shot. So one day he went out and shot a reel of test footage of his pal Rod Millen going flat-out - off-road, of course, with the car spewing dramatic dust clouds in the golden, late afternoon light - that was simply fantastic. I made it my mission to get Jeff to shoot a commercial for me, and we finally were able to line him up for a Dodge spot to be shot outside of Aspen. It was to be Jeff's second commercial shoot as he'd already been lined-up for a Volvo spot, but at the last minute the Volvo shoot was postponed, so once again Jeff and I found ourselves on location. Only this time for his very first motion picture television commercial shoot.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Jeff has gone on to have a spectacular career in the business, unleashing his considerable talents on behalf of blue-chip clients all over the world. And in his spare time he's created calendars, books and yes, he's even found the time to have a pretty impressive driving career. Jeff hasn't changed a bit over the years and he is not only one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet, he's an enthusiast through and through. He's the only guy I know with a Porsche as a daily driver who actually uses it for what it was intended for, which is enjoying a great car day-in, day-out. Jeff and I keep in touch on a fairly regular basis, and after his latest win, I asked him to talk about it some more, since he had been emailing me updates leading up and to the actual race weekend. I know you readers out there will enjoy it...

Q. Jeff, you called this past weekend's win at Pike's Peak your "best win." What made this one so special?


Jeff Zwart: It was like a two week "relationship" with a car.  I met it, I decorated it, I raced it... and whoa, did it ever exceed my expectations... I am in love.  I just have never driven a car that worked so well at Pikes Peak.  I have always taken a road car and converted it to a Pikes Peak car.   This time we took a purpose-built Road Racing car and slightly adapted it to the dirt.  This event - with 156 turns and a finish at 14,110 feet - really showed the versatility of the Porsche GT3 Cup car.   It was just different, and it gave me a "special" level of confidence to drive that I had not experienced before on the mountain.

Q. What about the Porsche you raced up the mountain this year? I've never heard you so excited about a car before, and you've owned and driven some great ones. What made this particular 911 your favorite Porsche?   

Jeff Zwart: I too was surprised at how excited I was about my result this year. I think it was primarily because it was a totally new Porsche for me and it just had exceeded my expectations all week.   Porsche Motorsport North America built the car for me.   A GT3 Cup Car already has lots of new stuff that I had not experienced before but the best part by far was the sequential gearbox.  No matter what attitude I had the car in a turn I could just leave my right foot down and pull back the selector and go up a gear in a millisecond.   By having that shifting capability, it would never upset the car.   I had bought this '07 car at Sebring so when it arrived at Porsche Motorsport they upgraded it to a '10 car.   It went from the original 3.6 to a brand new 3.8 with bits and pieces from all the different series since we really did not have one series' rules to conform to.  My learning curve for the car was all of 5 minutes. Whenever I sit in a Porsche it feels like home and this car was no exception.   I drive shifter karts so the transmission was not a mystery and the rest was just perfect.   I was slightly concerned about driving a non-turbo car at 14,110 feet but Porsche sent Andrew Gregory to handle the engine management and it was pretty amazing how the power was tuned to work at all altitudes.   We softened-up the suspension and it was able to handle the inconsistencies in the surface perfectly.  Tires are always a concern at Pikes Peak because the mountain is almost upside down working against tire wear.  Pikes has mostly pavement on the bottom and mostly dirt on the top so it works the opposite to how your tires wear. This year I ended up working with Pirelli and we chose a racing rain tire. This turned out to be the perfect tire for the event.  I had great grip in the lower section and by concentrating on carrying speed rather than sliding I was able to have very good temperatures and tread to go into the dirt section.   I have never had such perfect tire wear.   The additional bonus with the Pirellis was that they felt so compliant over the surface changes.   The tires gave me exactly the same feedback on the dirt as they did on the asphalt... just different levels of slip.  When race day came I had the president of Porsche Motorsport, Paul Ritchie, and people from Pirelli in attendance, and because of the week's hype untold others all focused on my single run... it was a little extra added pressure.  All week I had been racing Rhys Millen's record from last year which was a 12:09 in this class so it was our goal to beat that by somewhere around 5 seconds.   Just to get into the high 11s was going to be nice.    When I finished my run and  my time came in at 11:31, needless to say it was pretty exciting.  We had beat the record by 38 seconds and at that point were fastest overall in the event.  My drive was nearly perfect but at the same time the speed was deceiving... it never felt like I had gone that fast... that is a sure sign that the Pirelli tires and the Porsche Cup were the perfect combo.  As the day went on and the next classes ran we were still on top of the timing... it seemed rather unbelievable that I could be there in factory built car with just two-wheel-drive and be sitting in that position having beaten all the 4WD Rally cars with 600+ horsepower...and the ever quick Pikes Peak Special Stock Cars.   It wasn't until the Unlimited cars and Open Wheelers ran that our time was beaten.   I ended up 6th overall,  I had never even been in the top ten before.  I guess it was such a culmination of so many things that I had never dealt with before that made this years event the best win I have ever had at Pikes Peak.   Having everyone there from Porsche and Pirelli just sweetened the deal.    The car was just awesome!

Q. You've had a long-standing relationship with the factory that allows you to bring your talents as a director to bear on behalf of Porsche, but also allows you to indulge your passion for racing. Tell us a little bit about that. How did it get its start and what are some of your most memorable experiences as a Porsche racer and a director of Porsche films and commercials?  

Jeff Zwart: Porsche has just always seemed to be the heart and soul of what I do in my life... it has been the consistent thing in both work and play.  It goes way back in my life to high school days when the first 911s started showing up.  I was attracted to the sound and the looks that were so different.  I have a friend named Freeman Thomas (the designer extraodinaire - PMD) and we both rode around on our bikes looking for anyone who owned a 911.   We both ended up at Art Center College of Design, Freeman in Transportation Design and myself in Photography.  Freeman's first job was with Porsche and mine was with Road & Track shooting features on Porsche.  This led me to frequent trips to Stuttgart and visits with Freeman.  As of today I have shot the majority of the Porsche commercials of the last 20 years and Freeman runs the Ford Design studio out here in California.   Most recently I shot the "Family Tree" commercial with 48 historical Porsches... that was a logistical challenge but it has become one of my most successful commercials for Porsche.  My best friend is Rod Millen so naturally his Rallying background played into my desire to go racing.  He built my first car that I won the Open Class National Championship in the SCCA Pro Rally Championship.  I went away from the sport for a couple years and we came back with a Carrera 4 Rally car and the rest is history.   I took that car and finished second in the U.S. Pro Rally Championship and in the same year won the Open Class at Pikes Peak.   From there on there was no turning back.  I wanted to Rally and drive Porsches.   For the next 9 years I ran Porsches at Pikes Peak and threw in a few other events like the Panama Alaska Rally which was 25 days 10,000 miles, all in Porsches.  If you could call it that, I kind of became the dirt expert in a Porsche.. at least in the U.S.  Along came Cayenne and it seemed that what I was doing had become more valid.   I hosted a press event at Pikes Peak with journalists from all over the world and was impressed with how quick i could get a Cayenne Turbo up the mountain.  A few years later I was asked to organize and run the North American team in the TransSyberia Rally.  This Rally took us from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar Mongolia in factory-built Cayennes.  One of our three cars driven by Rod Millen won overall and I finished 8th in class.   Talk about being fully engulfed with Porsche...in Mongolia we even slept next to them in tents at night.  So you can see that I am almost completely surrounded by Porsches and I love it.  To have the history in advertising that I have and have it centered around Porsche, it just does not get much better than that.   I have worked with the greatest agencies on the Porsche account and traveled to places all over the world.    Who would have thought that sitting in the back of my Dad's 356 traveling to my first race at the Indy 500 that I would carry on to this point?  It has been an all encompassing experience with the advertising and racing and personal ownership.  My daily driver is a 911 GT3RS that has 36,000 miles in less than two years... that's what I do, I just drive, and no car ever gets me more excited than a Porsche.  I am a racing driver first... and all else follows. 

Q. What's the one racing event or experience you've always wanted to do? And do you have any plans in the works that you can share with our Autoextremist audience?

Jeff Zwart: I am pretty lucky (very lucky)... I have driven so many events all over the map.   A World Championship Rally event was on my list but I got to drive in the New Zealand WRC a few years back so I could check that off.  I drove in a couple ALMS events and even the Baja 1000 in a Porsche powered buggy... I have done a lot.   There is a 24 hour GT3 Cup race at Nurburgring next year... so maybe just maybe, now that I know my way around a Cup car.     I really am satisfied with what I have done... we will just have to see what the next quest is.

Q. Bruce Springsteen wrote so eloquently in Born to Run that, "The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive..." If you were given one last run with one last car where would it be and in what Porsche would you be in?

Jeff Zwart: I have a 1966 Porsche 906 that kind of puts life in perspective.... one quick blast in the early morning down PCH really clears the head, but since you asked....    I guess I would say, that I would love to do a lap of Le Mans in a 917 WITHOUT the chicanes on the Mulsanne... now that would be one epic lap that would probably trump all that I have ever done in a Porsche.

©2010 Pikes Peak Hill Climb

©2010 Pikes Peak Hill Climb

©2010 Pikes Peak Hill Climb



©2010 Pikes Peak Hill Climb



Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD

(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Pikes Peak, Colorado, July 4, 1962. AK Miller in action on the mountain in his Ford-powered Devin sports racer. He finished second overall in the sports car class to Robert Donner Jr. (Porsche 718 RS61), but won the Unlimited division in a time of 14:29.

Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out ford.artehouse.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD



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