The city of Albi is located about 40 miles to the northeast of Toulouse in the Tarn region, part of the southwestern quarter of France. For many years races were held near Albi on an open road circuit, lined with trees, called the Circuit des Planques, a triangular high speed course of about 5.5 miles in length. In 1939 the Grand Prix de l’Albigeois, as it was officially called, took place on July 16 and was run for voiturettes, meaning cars of less than 1500 cc, although all of the Albi cars were supercharged. The event was run in two heats of 20 laps each. The entry was dominated by various Maseratis, but also included three ERAs, two Altas and an MG K3.
Practice was overshadowed by a serious accident which befell the popular Swiss driver Armand Hug with the Scuderia Torino Maserati 4CM. Hug spun in wet weather and crashed into a telegraph pole, throwing the driver out onto the road on his head, leading to injuries which resulted in paralysis. Hug would remain a semi-invalid for the final 30 years of his life. In the race the overall winner, and winner of both heats, was Johnny Wakefield with a Maserati 4CL.
Above is ERA R4D, driven by the owner of English Racing Automobiles, Raymond Mays, here being attended to in the pits during practice. R4D was a kind of works development mule which saw many changes, including a new frame, over the prewar years. It would set many hill climb and sprint records, both for Mays and postwar for subsequent owners, some of whom used it very successfully in historic racing.
Note that the pits were just the right lane of a short stretch of road between two right-handers with no protection at all. During the first heat an official noticed that one of the knockoffs had come off Mays’ car but was unable to warn him. The affected rear wheel duly removed itself from the ERA, about which Mays later recounted, “Moments later, before I had time to act on a warning in the form of a blood-curdling crunch from astern, my nearside (left) rear wheel overtook me at dizzying speed, struck a telegraph pole and snapped it in two…” Mays brought the car to a stop on three wheels, “…using not only the whole road, but the banks and shoulders as well.” He was done for the day.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com