Meaden vs the Mountain – Pikes Peak preview

About now DR’s Richard Meaden is on a flight to Denver. On Sunday he’ll be driving a 750bhp open-wheeler up the scariest hillclimb in the world. We had hoped he’d write a little preview about his drive at Pikes Peak, but funnily enough he hasn’t been able to concentrate in the last few days. So instead I conducted a phone interview with Meaden from the DR office. Sounded quite echoey, almost like he was in a toilet…

Richard had his first taste of Pike Peak last year but after setting a cracking pace on his free practice runs (the organisers split the mountain into three sections for practice, so the timed run is the one and only attempt at the full course) the 6.6-litre V8 destroyed the clutch on the start line and he had to pull up less than half way to the summit. ‘It was the worst feeling in the world when the clutch went – I tried to keep going but as soon as I accelerated the revs built but without generating any forward momentum. I was literally heartbroken. So I just want to make it to the top this time.’

I know Richard well enough to know that this is complete, erm, b*llocks. Having run in the top-three in the Open Wheel class for much of the practice sessions in ’07 I reckon he’s got a proper goal to aim for… ‘well I haven’t paid much attention to the entry list, but if it’s similar to last year then top-three in class would be incredible, but even to run top-five would be great. I’m really looking forward to it but dreading it at the same time. There are so many variables – the course changes year-to-year in terms of grip depending on temperature and the preparation by the organisers, but also day-to-day as more and more cars sweep the gravel sections clean – so although I went ok last year things could be different this time.’

The PVA hillclimb car is something special. Weighing 800kgs and with its methanol-fuelled Chevy V8 producing 750bhp (at sea level) the power-to-weight ratio is around 950bhp-per-ton. No road car gets close, even the mighty Veyron has ‘just’ 521bhp-per-ton. All that grunt gets to the surface through a 5-speed sequential ‘box, limited-slip diff and Goodyear Pikes Peak BlueStreak Specials (seriously). BrownStreak might be more appropriate…

‘It’s a physically exhausting thing to drive on the tarmac sections because the steering is so heavy, but on the gravel it’s ace. It just seems to float above everything and it’s far less scary than it probably sounds.’ I’m not sure if he’s trying to convince me of that or himself, but either way I’m not sure I believe it! I salute him for giving it a go, though. He’ll be updating us all on Dialogue over the next few days and you can see the section times at www.ppihc.com They’ll also have live updates as the official results unfold on Sunday. Soon after we’ll have a full feature and video of the event here at DR.