There will be a flavour of Le Mans at the seventh Castle Combe Autumn Classic, which is confirmed for Saturday 6 October.
First established in 2012, the Autumn Classic has quickly established itself as a must-do date on the classic racing calendar and consistently delivers glorious racing from grids full of cars of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Key elements of the 2018 edition will be celebrations of 50 years of the Ford GT40 and its Castle Combe heritage with Ron Fry and the 65th anniversary of the last race at the circuit for Sir Stirling Moss OBE and his lucky escape at Quarry.
Add in a host of classic car and owners’ clubs packing the car parks, on-track demonstration sessions for rare and powerful racing cars from the sport’s history and it all adds up to a superb day out in the manicured setting of Castle Combe, one of Britain’s longest-established race tracks.
One of the headline themes for the day will be the Ford GT40, which was the dominant car at Le Mans 50 years ago. Several GT40s are expected to take part in the demonstration sessions alongside other cars from the 95-year history of Le Mans.
Closer to home, Bath garage owner Ron Fry raced two GT40s at his local track, starting with chassis 1017 and then moving up to the ex-Targa Florio chassis 1073. Fry took over chassis 1073 in June 1968 and won three races at Castle Combe that year before retiring from racing at the end of the season following an accident at Brands Hatch. Fry was renowned for owning and racing exotic sports-racing cars and his two GT40s, bearing his ‘RON 54’ number plate, were among very few GT40s to race at the Wiltshire track in period. His racing career and close links with Castle Combe will be a feature of the event.
The Ford GT40 was first raced in 1964 and went on to win the Le Mans 24-hour race four times in a row from 1966 to 1969. Fifty years ago chassis 1075 won in the hands of Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi and made history a year later by becoming the first chassis and engine to take back-to-back wins in the race, this time driven by Jackie Ickx and Jackie Oliver. After dominating the race for four years, Ford stepped away from the GT40 campaign and has never won Le Mans again.
At the time of the 2018 Autumn Classic it will be exactly 65 years since the day that Sir Stirling Moss OBE had his final race at Castle Combe and it so nearly ended in disaster. The man who would go on to become one of the most enduringly famous racing drivers of all time was lucky to escape with relatively minor injuries when his Formula 2 Cooper flipped at Quarry after contact with the Connaught of Tony Rolt. Moss was thrown out and suffered a broken shoulder, damaged arm and twisted knee, but it could have been much worse. The racing life of Moss will be a key feature of the 2018 event.
The race programme for the Autumn Classic is currently being finalised and many race promoters are keen to secure a slot for their grid. What is certain is that the race line-up will deliver strong grids of stunning cars, close racing and the fabulous spectacle of rare and valuable cars being driven to the limit.