Peter Whitehead

12/11/1914 - 21/9/1958

Record updated 21-Sep-07

Peter Whitehead was a wealthy amateur who participated in 11 grands prix. He won Le Mans with Peter Walker in 1951. Peter was killed in 1959 on the Tour de France, when, with his brother Graham driving, their Jaguar crashed off a bridge into a ravine at Lasalle. Graham survived.

Peter Whitehead
Peter Whitehead was born in Menston, Ilkley, Yorkshire and came from a wealthy background, which gave him the means with which to indulge his passion for motor sport. He started racing in a Riley in 1934 and, the following year, switched to an ERA. He finished third in the Limerick GP, a Formula Libre race, which was the first major result for Geoffrey Taylor's Alta firm.

In 1936 he finished third in the Donington Grand Prix, sharing his ERA with Peter Walker. In 1938 Whitehead took the ERA to Australia and there scored his first major victory, winning the Australian GP at Bathurst.

During the war he joined the RAF but once hostilities ceased he was back racing, taking his ERA to second place in the British Empire Trophy on the Isle of Man in the summer of 1947. Later that year he raced at Lausanne as well. In 1948 he survived a plane crash at London's Croydon Aerodrome though he was seriously injured. He had been preparing to fly to Milan to arrange the purchase of a Ferrari 125.

In 1949, after convincing Enzo Ferrari to sell him a Ferrari 125 Formula 1 car, he became the first Ferrari F1 privateer. With the grren painted 125, he won the Czech GP, becoming the first Briton to win a major race abroad since Seaman. He almost won the French GP as well but gearbox problems meant he finished third.

In 1950 he won the Jersey Road Race and the Ulster Trophy but the biggest win of his career came at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1951 sharing a Jaguar with Peter Walker.

He continued to race and win in Formula 2 events all across Europe in 1951 and 1952 with an Alta, a Cooper-Alta and his Ferrari. However in 1953 he decided to concentrate on sports cars, sharing victory with Stirling Moss in the Reims 12 Hours with a C-Type Jaguar and a second win in the event with Ken Wharton the following year in a D Type. This was the first win for a D Type and it was a convincing one at that, with the cars taking a clean sweep of 1-2-3 in the race. The Jaguar Heritage Trust has errected a bronze plaque over the pit, commemorating the achievement.

The D Type, registration OKV3, later belonged to John Melville-Smith and, later still, to Martin Morris. John Roberts had the opportunity to drive it in the wet at Castle Combe. Apparently it understeared badly, particularly through Camp corner, Martin's advice was to "keep your foot in it, it will come right"! Though somewhat sceptical, particularly bearing in mind the car, Roberts took his advice and Martin was proved correct. Fortunately it was dry for the race and John had fun holding off some Aston Martin Zagato's that were arguably somewhat better suited to UK club racing.

In 1953 he also won the 12 Hours of Hyeres and added single-seater victories in the Lady Wigram Trophy in New Zealand and in the Rand GP in South Africa.

In the 1958 Le Mans 24 Hours he shared the second-placed Aston Martin with his half-brother Graham then, just a couple of months later, Peter lost his life during the Tour de France. Their Jaguar, with Graham at the wheel, crashed over a bridge parapet into a ravine, injuring Graham but killing Peter.