Photo courtesy Porsche Motorsport North America
Jeff Zwart, who made his name in photography and has been racing cars for nearly as long as he's been photographing them, drove a Porsche 911 GT2 RS racer to the Pikes Peak Hillclimb from Porsche Motorsport North America's headquarters in Southern California and has qualified the same machine to race, sitting second in the Time Attack 2WD class, within 1.5 seconds of veteran Rod Millen, who driving a much lighter, purpose-built race car.
Zwart, who lives in Woody Creek, Colorado took the long way to race, completing his 1138-mile journey from the Los Angeles area to Colorado Springs and achieving 22.6-mpg with the 620-horsepower sports car.
"Needless to say, we have the only street-legal car in the top tier of this year's Pikes Peak entry list and people are amazed that we earned 22.6-mpg in such a high performance car while driving it to the event," Zwart, a seven-time champion in this event explained.
Because of the large entry field, Zwart had only three qualifying runs rather than the customary five passes up the mountain. At first he had to change his driving style to accommodate the street machine - and he also had to change the tires he was using to get up both the paved part - and the remaining two miles of gravel."
"Because the Porsche 911 GT2 RS is a street car, adjusting handling and performance is not the same as it would be on a race car, and I was having trouble feeling comfortable going as fast as I needed for a good qualifying run. We worked with Michelin to switch from racing rain tires to grooved slicks, and suddenly the car's handling came to me," Zwart explained.
"Since the Porsche is geared for more than 200 mph, and I rarely go above 125 on the mountain, I've learned to use first, second and third gears only to maximize the engine's torque and performance."
Zwart didn't know he had only three qualifying tries until his final, third run. He decided to go for it and turned his best time (on part of the hill is used for qualifying) of 5:15.7; Millen's pole speed is 5:14.12.
The Pikes Peak road is being paved completely to help attract additional tourist traffic, leaving only two miles of gravel this year. By next year's race the road, which starts at 9390 feet above seat level and ends at 14,110 feet will be all tarmac.
Jeff Zwart has won his class at Pikes Peak - all in Porsche Turbo street cars - in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2002, as well as his win in the naturally aspirated 911 GT3 Cup last year. He's set class records four times.
The 89th running of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb runs Sunday beginning at 9AM MDT.
© 2011 Anne Proffit