We chat to the first person to drive Lightweight E-type No. 15 outside of Jaguar, and get her impressions of this unique car.
Katarina Kyvalova has collected and rallied classic cars for 15 years. Since competing in the 2014 Benjafields 24 Hours at Portimao, Portugal, with her all-female Bentley Belles team, she has become a regular at historic racing events, finishing third in the Freddie March Memorial Trophy at the 2015 Goodwood Revival in her Jaguar Cooper, and third in class in the 2015 Spa Six Hours in her Austin Healey 3000. She raced her own Jaguar E-type in the Graham Hill Trophy at the 2016 Goodwood Members' Meeting, before being asked to give Lightweight E-type No. 15 its first run at Shelsley Walsh.
How did you get started collecting and competing in classic cars?
It started 17 years ago. My car broke down, and a friend loaned me his Austin Healey. It was my first drive in a classic car, and after two miles I loved it. I bought myself an Austin Healey 3000, and started doing rallies - first as a navigator, then driving my own car. Some of the roads in the Alps are quite scary, especially in a classic car, but I really enjoyed it. It felt like a big day when I'd done my first event. It was also great to be part of a community - sharing a passion, making friends and talking about cars.
You've now got a 1954 Cooper Jaguar, a 1927 Bentley 4.5-litre Speed Six, an Austin Healey 3000 MK1 Competition, and a Jaguar E-type. What's next?
Everyone has a dream list, and it always gets longer. Collecting cars is so addictive. If you see how a car performs or sounds - especially when racing - it gets you thinking. So, the collection keeps on growing. I'm bad at selling cars - that's the problem!
What prompted your decision to move into circuit racing?
Circuit racing was always an ambition, but it's not like rallying, where you get a nice rally or road car and just have fun. You have to approach it properly, get your licence, and learn proper circuit racing technique. It became a reality two years ago at the Flying Scotsman Rally - my first event in the UK. Late at night in the bar, I made a bet that I would do it. The next morning it was a bit of a shock, but I'm happy, because I'm not sure I would have done it without that.
That was also the moment you came up with the idea of the Bentley Belles…
I have friends in the Hamburg Classic Car Club who race pre-war Bentleys. I fell in love with those cars and the history of the Bentley Boys at the Le Mans 24 Hours. At the Flying Scotsman, which is a real Bentley event, someone told me about the Benjafields 24 Hours. I'd just bought my Bentley, and I thought: 'I'm going to do it. And do it with a group of girls.' We've now done a few events together, including the Mille Miglia, and the Spa Six Hours.
What was it like racing at Goodwood?
I've been a member of the Goodwood Road Racing Club for 13 years, so I've been a spectator, and always said I wanted to race there one day. They do such a brilliant job, and the races get better every year. So, I've been searching for cars to compete in the Revival and the Members' Meeting for years. In terms of racing at Goodwood, it has been a steep learning curve, because it's serious stuff. But, we grow with our task.
Your own E-type is a new purchase. Is it something you've always wanted?
The Jaguar E-type is an icon. It's <the> car. I drove a Series I roadster road car, and when I saw guys racing the E-type, I thought it's perfect for me. It took me a while to find the car I wanted, though. It's not easy.
When did you get approached about driving this Jaguar Lightweight E-type?
I had a call, and I didn't even check the dates to see if there were any clashes. I just said: 'Yes'. Anything else could be easily shifted! I'll be honest, I couldn't really sleep last night and woke up at 5am - I was pretty excited.
What were your impressions of seeing the car for the first time?
Standing in the middle of the paddock, in the sunshine - it's just beautiful. That bonnet is one of the most beautiful body shapes ever been produced on a car. The big difference from my E-type is the aluminium all around the cockpit - this pureness to the design. I have to say, the attention to detail inside the car is amazing.
Where do you stand on the debate - original, or replica?
I understand what Jaguar is doing, as so many cars have been lost. I have wondered: do we really need it? But why not? It's an exciting project, and if they keep these cars 1:1 to the originals, and don't make them better in terms of performance than the original, then it's exciting. It's not like they're all of a sudden making 200 of them. All they're doing is filling a gap in their history. I think this is a nice thing.
What was it like to drive it?
Starting the car is a thrill - the engine sound is fantastic. You instantly want to go and race. On my first run I was a bit cautious, so I didn't feel a big difference to a standard E-type. Once you start to push it, though, it feels like it's from a different planet. It's much lighter, especially at the front with the aluminium engine. The track was still wet, so it was a bit twitchy with all the extra horsepower and the quick response of the throttle, but it handles beautifully, and you can predict exactly what's going to happen in the corners through the steering wheel. I just regret that the hill isn't longer. I could keep driving up and down all day. It's made my year.