Suddenly, we found ourselves in a clear spot in the heaving throng of people. Evidently cars had been doing burnouts here, the tarmac rich with the freshly burnt remnants of Michelins, Pirellis and Goodyears. In my books, however, there’s nothing more stupid and careless than doing a burnout in a crowd. One of the spectators lowered a mock ‘stop’ barrier, while everyone else started cheering, waving and shouting.
I wasn't going to entertain them, but I gunned the engine a few times which seemed to gratify them enough to allow us to move on. The chap with the barrier, however, persisted and simply walked along with us until the crowds forced us to a stop again. Despite the narrowness of the road, there was still traffic trying to work its way through in the other direction, as well as numerous cyclists and people on scooters passing each way.
This time, an air of intimidation descended and I felt a distinctly unnerving mob mentality flooding through the crowd. They really packed around the Aston, trying to get in to it, shouting abuse, tapping it, and I got the impression that it wouldn't take much for someone to actually feel inclined to damage it.
Stan, the photographer travelling with me, looked distinctly unsettled and insisted that we push through and get the hell out of there. I was inclined to agree with him, so - while trying not to flatten anyone - I forced the Aston slowly and steadily through the amassed spectators. Coming the other way was a chap on a motorbike, who promptly got a bucket of water poured over him. He didn't, understandably, look amused.
It wasn't an isolated incident, as several colleagues later told me. There were stories about cars being kicked and damaged because the owners wouldn't do burnouts, reports of elderly couples in classic cars being doused in water, and other generally yobbish behaviour. Flares, fireworks, smoke grenades, water bombs and water pistols were all regularly deployed against drivers and their cars.
Walking through the site in the evening revealed that, in many places, similar events were occurring. Roads were blocked with people, cars were being held back as they were forced to do burnouts or endure the consequences, and traffic was brought to a complete standstill. Those still arriving for the race frequently didn't get far, simply having to sit for hours on end until the cars could squeeze through the crowds.
What worried me as well was that, as the night progressed, it seemed likely that it wouldn't be water that was loaded in to the balloons and super soakers. All in all, it took the edge off what seemed like a very sociable and friendly event.
There was a police presence but, more often than not, they simple drove straight past or didn't intervene. In some respects, I could appreciate why. It felt that it wouldn't take much for the crowds to start a full-on riot, something that had reputedly happened before, necessitating the use of CS gas to break up the troublemakers.
I've no problem with people having a good time, but it did feel like the organisers needed to enforce a little more discipline, primarily just to ensure that no-one would get hurt or injured. It would be all-too easy for someone to get it wrong and put a car in a crowd, which would no doubt lead to a drastic change in the way the event was held.
After all, if people really want to see proper burnouts being done, maybe a dedicated area should be allocated to it, so people can do it safely and everyone can enjoy it. The organisers could even set up coverage of it, turning it in to a proper spectator sport and allowing for a modicum of control.