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“Ten minutes of insanity.”

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Jeff Zwart

The 61-year-old filmmaker and photographer from California has started fourteen times in this race in the Rocky Mountains. He has clinched eight class victories and secured several records in the Time Attack category. Zwart’s exclusive starting machine: Porsche.

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, also known as the Race to the Clouds, is ­celebrating its centenary this year. Jeff Zwart has driven a Porsche in this legendary race more times than any other driver in its history.

Jeff, when did you enter the Race to the Clouds for the first time?
The first time I ran Pikes Peak was in 1994 in a Porsche, and it was a very intimidating place. There are huge drop-offs over the edge on many of the corners. There are sections of the road that look identical, yet they’re different, and the consequences of getting it wrong are huge. I had seen many films on the race before, but driving it was completely different.

Which Porsche did you drive in 1994?
I was running the U.S. ProRally Champion­ship in a 3.8-powered 964 Carrera RSR. We put a 550-hp turbo engine in it—which meant the same car suddenly had almost 250 hp more. It was so quick, and I loved driving it with all that power. We ended up winning the open class that year.

What is special about this hill climb?
After a week of practice, there is only one chance to race up the mountain. It all boils down to one run. You push everything to the limits: the engine temperature, the tire wear, and your own body with the thin air. The mountain is one big living organism. It can be warm and sunny at the bottom, but snowing up at 4,000 meters. You never know what that one run will be like.

What would you say are the make—or—break parts of the race?
The top section is superfast, and it has three blind left-hand curves. There are no trees at that altitude so your turning points are against the sky. It takes a lot of commitment up there, and it really separates the people who can drive like that from those who can’t. The top section pretty much tests everything.

Why is a Porsche precisely the right car for you on Pikes Peak?
When I get into a Porsche, it feels like I’m wearing the car. It feels so natural that it could just be an extension of myself. That’s exactly the feeling you want—a car that is part of you.

How do you prepare yourself mentally for the race?
I have a little ritual. I make one last drive up the mountain. I can’t go to bed the night before without taking my rental car up to the summit for one quick look.

Hill climbing or circuit racing: Which one do you think is harder?
Pikes Peak is particularly difficult. I don’t want to take anything away from circuit racing, but I have done enough road racing to make that call. With 156 turns, there is always more to learn. And at the speed we do now—235 km/h on a two-lane road with hardly any guardrails—the risk is high. And then there’s the pressure to perform. You have only one run. It’s 10 minutes and 20 kilometers of insanity.

By Bastian Fuhrmann


Pikes Peak

First run: July 4, 1916
Starting altitude: 2,862 m
Finishing altitude: 4,301 m
Track length: 19.99 km
Turns: 156