Peter Whitehead

Full Name:
Peter Neild Whitehead
Born:
12th November 1914
Menston, Yorkshire
Died:
20th September 1958 (Aged 43)
Cros, Languedoc-Roussillon (F), Tour de France Automobile
Nationality:
British
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Peter Whitehead was a man of independent means who began racing a Riley while still at Cambridge University. A true amateur sportsman, he funded his racing activities from his successful farming and wool businesses. Whitehead was the first Briton to win both a continental Grand Prix and the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Pre-war racing career

He bought a black ERA B-type in 1936 and finished third with Peter Walker in that year’s Donington GP. Whitehead shipped the car to Australia for the 1938 GP – a handicap event held on the still unpaved Bathurst circuit. He beat the locals to earn £350 prize money and his first major victory.

He served with the Royal Tank Corps during World War II, reaching the rank of Major and seeing action in Italy and the Middle East. Whitehead and the ERA were back as soon as peace was restored and he won on the Prescott hillclimb in June 1946. Seventh in the 1947 French GP, he finished second in the British Empire Trophy but the car was long outdated.

His ERA E-type proved troublesome so Whitehead persuaded Ferrari to sell a Formula 1 car for the first time in 1948. However, Whitehead was gravely injured in a plane crash at Croydon Aerodrome when travelling to Italy to finalise the deal.

Grand Prix winner

Once recovered, Whitehead and his green Ferrari 125 were consistent finishers during 1949. Fourth in the Belgian GP, he was third in the GP de France at Reims after gearbox maladies prevented victory. There was no such ill-fortune in the last race of the year for he won the Czech GP at Brno when the works Ferraris were absent. Those achievements were recognised with the BRDC Gold Star for 1949.

He entered three rounds of the new World Championship in 1950 and finished third in the French GP. There was also non-championship success in the Jersey Road Race at St Helier and Dundrod’s Ulster Trophy.

Le Mans success for Jaguar

Whitehead made his debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1950 and he returned a year later to share Peter Walker’s Jaguar XK120C. They won by nine laps and set a new record speed despite 16 hours of rain. He made intermittent F1 starts that year and gave G.A.Vandervell’s new normally aspirated Ferrari 375 (renamed the Thinwall Special) its debut at Silverstone – finishing in ninth position.

Whitehead continued in sports cars, F1 and Formula 2 in 1952 and 1953. Single-seater wins came at far flung outposts such as the 1953 Lady Wigram Trophy in New Zealand and Rand GP (South Africa). He drove a works Jaguar D-type in endurance races and won the 12-hour races at Hyères in 1953 and Reims (1953 and 1954).

He changed marques for the 1958 Le Mans 24 Hours – finishing second in a privately-entered Aston Martin DB3S with his half-brother Graham Whitehead. They shared a Jaguar on the Tour de France Automobile in September and were leading the touring car class as the event drew towards a foggy conclusion. However, Graham crashed over a bridge and into a ravine some 30 miles northwest of Nîmes. Peter Whitehead was killed instantly.