I must admit that, by the time I reached the perimeter of the Le Mans circuit, my patience was wearing a little thin.
We had got out of bed at the crack of dawn, been on the move almost all day, battled with the consequences of erratic sat-nav routing and dealt with myriad tailbacks and traffic jams.
More importantly, we had so far managed to preserve the condition of the £142,000 Aston Martin DB9 Volante that we had driven all the way from Autocar’s office in Teddington. I would be damned if I was going to let anyone else damage it.
So, when people started crowding around it as we drove along the access roads of the track, I got a little twitchy. The crowds thickened, intentionally forming a single-car width lane and forcing cars passing through the throng to a crawl.
A chap in the crowd – to whom I will remain in eternal debt – shouted at me to close my windows. I heeded his warning, and made sure the doors were locked for safety’s sake. I could see people in the rear-view running their hands along the flanks of the DB9, while others came up and tapped on the windows inquisitively, giving us the thumbs-up or gesturing for us to wind our windows down.
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.