Paralympic Winter Games
04 - 13 March

James Whitley’s need for speed spills onto race track

British Paralympian is both a Para alpine skier and a member of a motorsports team 12 Apr 2022
James Whitley wearing Great Britain's uniform competing in the Beijing slalom course
Whitley achieved a personal best of ninth place in the downhill in Beijing
ⒸJoel Marklund for OIS

James Whitley wants to go fast. And then he wants to go even faster.

The 24-year-old has done exactly that as a Para alpine ski racer and a member of a motorsports team made up of people with disabilities.

“I've always had a love of racing, full stop," Whitley said. "Car racing is something that's always really interested me. There are lots of similarities between the two, with line and going on maximum attack.

It's a very similar kind of game, as it were. That's why I really enjoy it as well.”

Whitley started skiing at four years old and developed a passion for cars long before he could drive.

In 2021, he joined Team BRIT. The motorsport team is made up of nine drivers who have various physical and intellectual impairments, such as autism, paraplegia and multiple sclerosis. The second-youngest member of the team, Whitley was born without hands and has undergone numerous surgeries to construct five fingers.

“I'm desperate to go to the Le Mans 24 Hours and that's what our team is aiming to do. We'll be the first disabled racing team," Whitley said. “I believe it will be in the next few years, and that's looking on course to happen.

“I want to prove to the world that it's not just that we’re really fast for a disabled team, but we're really fast, full stop. We want to be on the podium and show we don't need any excuses. We're going to win races just as much as everyone else.”

While Whitley reaches greater speeds behind the wheel, it is ski racing that gives him the biggest thrill.

“Ski racing, you don't have a shell around you," he said. "Your legs are the only thing to control. And accidents happen just as much as in car racing.”

At Beijing 2022, Whitley was competing at his third Paralympic Winter Games and achieved a personal best of ninth place in men's downhill standing. He was also on track for a good result  in his favourite race, the super combined, before he straddled the last gate and was disqualified.

“It was a great run and then the last roll, I got a bit of air, I couldn't turn enough and I was a bit too late for the last gate," Whitley said. "Very disappointing, because it's one of my best events. 

“Losing it on the last gate, it's horrible, especially after a good run, but it is what it is. I'll take it into the next race and try to take all the good things I've got out of it."

Despite that disappointment, Whitley felt positive about his performances in the speed events and went on to finish sixth in the giant slalom and eights in the slalom.

"[The races went] really well,” he said after the conclusion of the speed. “Big improvements from last time.I'm pushing harder than ever, so mistakes are inevitable, but there's no point coming here if you're not going to push to the maximum.”