The 98th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is due to take place on August 30, but for competitors such as Jeff Zwart, who is due to drive a Porsche 935 owned by collector Bob Ingram and prepared by Porsche Motorsport, testing has been underway for many months. Though named after the legendary endurance sportscar of the 1970s, Zwart’s vehicle is a thoroughly modern machine, based on a 991 generation GT2 RS, with ‘long-tail’ bodywork.
According to Porsche, the first rounds of foreshortened runs on the closed course provided invaluable, if limited, feedback for team. According to Zwart, “The interesting thing about preparing for Pikes Peak is that we practice it in thirds – bottom, middle and top – and the only time you put all three of those sections together is on race day.”
The variables that the competitors must contend with and account for are numerous. Temperatures can shift significantly from top to bottom, so the performance of the tires or engine can be radically different from one elevation to the next. Increasing altitude also plays its part, affecting aero, induction and oxygen levels for the drivers themselves.
“I always describe Pikes Peak as a living organism,” explained Zwart. “We make our first practice run at 5:30am and are done by 8:30am when the mountain opens to the public. We’re running as the sun comes up then, but might start the race at 10:00am or even 11:00am when the temperatures are completely different. At the bottom it’s regularly 75 or 80°F [24-27°C] but it can be 45 or 50°F [7-10°F] at the summit. We’re climbing almost a mile up a mountain and things can fluctuate up there.”
For Zwart, another hurdle comes in the form of the car itself, a significant departure for the veteran racer who has honed his skills in far more analog cars, often purpose-built for Pikes Peak. “I come from the old school – no ABS, no traction control, none of the modern technologies that race cars depend on today – so for me the biggest challenge is using those things to my advantage at the highest level, rather than just relying on them for a little more traction or stopping power. I’ve got to really maximize the tech and that’s a fairly steep learning curve for me.”
It’s been five years since Zwart raced at Pikes Peak, but this will be his third consecutive year coaching the GT4 Clubsport class for Porsche Motorsport. He says that the act of breaking down the mountain into stages, and articulating his own physical and mental processes, has kept him sharp and familiar with the course.
As for the 935, it presents little to trouble him. “It’s the most comfortable race car I’ve ever driven. It’s already so neutral and my engineer has found fantastic balance in the setup. The combination of the turbo, the bodywork and the chassis is wonderful. It’s just a case of discovering the limits for me now – getting beyond exploratory speeds to competitive speeds, which are two very different things!
“It’s going to be a very interesting week,” he continued, “because I don’t know enough about the car yet to make a prediction about where we’ll be. I’m so fortunate that Bob Ingram has let me drive his 935 – one of just 77 – up one of the trickiest mountains in the world and I’ve honestly never enjoyed driving a car so much there. I’m just really curious to see how everything pans out!”