Participation in Britain's illegal street racing scene has long been dominated by "boy racers" with a penchant for souped-up hatchbacks, tinted windows and bulky body kits. But the attractions of fire-belching exhausts and nitrous-oxide boosters have spread to a new generation.
A crackdown on a notorious east London hotspot, where high-performance cars reach speeds of more than 100mph, has identified a significant number of middle-aged thrillseekers among more than 200 illicit racers who flock to the area every weekend.
Dozens of police officers and local authority officials descended on Royal Albert Way in the Docklands on Saturday night in an operation designed to curtail the growing use of the dual carriageway as a circuit by gangs of racing aficionados who pit their expensively revamped cars – including Subarus, Ford Cosworths and Volkswagen Golfs – against each other. Scotland Yard said yesterday that drivers from the ages of 18 to the mid-50s were approached by officers after cars were seen driving along the road close to London City Airport at speeds of up to 110mph, while crowds of onlookers cheered and took photographs. Among recent drivers at the event was the 50-year-old owner of an Aston Martin sports car.
Chief Inspector Guy Wade, who is the head of Newham Safer Neighbourhoods Team, said: "The drivers tend to be predominantly in their 20s but we do notice a significant number who are older and into their 50s. The gentleman with the Aston Martin was running a considerable risk. If there had been offending behaviour his car would have been at risk of seizure – and we're not talking about a £2,000 Ford Fiesta."
Police said the road, where residents have long complained about the visits by high-speed drivers late on Saturday nights, had in the past been treated with oil by the racers to allow cars to "drift" or skid sideways while going around corners and roundabouts. Drivers also tend to use bald or "slick" tyres to increase the ability of the cars to skid.
Last August, a 23-year-old man driving a modified Ford Cosworth was killed and his two passengers seriously injured when he lost control of the car at high speed on a roundabout on Royal Albert Way. Police said it was not known if the car had been racing.
In an attempt to prevent the road from being used as a race track, it is expected that a temporary road-closure order will be imposed this month, allowing police to block the road during the early hours at weekends.
A dispersal zone will also operate so that spectators can be required to move on.