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The Underdog Story of Kia’s Racing Division

Bradley Brownell November 22, 2011 Motorsports 15 Comments

In November of 2009, Kia announced in a press conference at the SEMA Show that, in conjunction with Kinetic Motorsport of Atlanta, GA, they would enter competition in the 2010 season of the Grand Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Street Tuner class. Within three months, Kia and Kinetic had a brand new Forte Koup on track competing against Honda’s Civic Si, Mazda’s 3 and MX-5, and MINI Coopers.  In the third race of the 2011 they came away with their first victory.

The 2010 season was a learning year, and who better to leave the learning to than experienced drivers Andy Lally and Nic Jonsson. Beginning with a completed assembly line car, Kinetic stripped the chassis down to bare and started fresh by stitch welding the seams and welding in a substantial roll cage.The engine was built from the ground up using a mix of various production and race parts, with the sum adding up to a 2.4 liter engine that produces 100 horsepower per liter.

The gearbox in the racer remains the stock Kia production 6-speed, with the exception of beefier shifter cables, a limited slip differential and a shorter final drive. Kia contends that Kinetic has developed the best braking system in the series, and the racers agree. A completely stock braking system with the exception of Cobalt brake pads and Alcon front rotors conspire to haul the 2500 pound Kia down from speed quite rapidly. Through the 2010 season Kinetic developed several new systems for the car, including a bespoke racing header and exhaust system.

For 2011, Kia has returned to the series with a second car. Since Andy Lally has left the team to pursue a career in NASCAR, the team now employs Nic Jonsson and Michael Galati to drive the number 10 car, while Adam Burrows and Trevor Hopwood now share the number 12 car. The car has become drastically more competitive as it ages, new developments and further enhancements occur at nearly every race weekend.

The winter improvements were immediately felt at the start of the season. Jonsson and Galati racked up a second place finish at the season opening race at Daytona, and continued with a top ten at the second race in Homestead. The real results came at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama where the third round of the series was held.

Having qualified 16th, Jonsson/Galati had hoped for a better showing, steeling their collective nerve for the race ahead. Starting the race, Galati quickly moved into the top ten before pitting to swap seats with Nic. Jonsson then proceeded to continue the tear through the field. The Kia remained slightly down on power to the rest of the class, though its handling and braking characteristics made it very well suited to the Barber course. Using this to his advantage, Nic continued to carve through the field, taking the lead with only 30 minutes remaining in the race. Fighting hard, Jonsson fended off the charging Office Depot BMW 1 series of Tim Bell and BJ Zacharias to win the two and a half hour event by just under a one second margin.

A second win later in the season at Wisconsin’s legendary Road America sportscar course vaulted the Number 10 Kia into contention for the series title, competing directly with Compass 360’s Honda Civic. It was an epic battle to the front in that race that would see Jonsson take over the lead only 9 laps from the checkered flag. The blue and green Kia moved to the top spot just in time to see the fourth placed Insight Racing BMW slam headlong into the wall at turn 2. The driver would be fine, but the damage to the barrier was insurmountable, and not able to be repaired in time to restart the race. Nic would see yellow flags for the majority of his lead, which turned into checkers, marking the team’s second victory of the season.

While they did not manage any other wins in the season, they did hold enough points to remain in contention up to the final race at Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course. Leading up to the start of the race, Kinetic Kia, Compass 360 Honda, and RSR MINI all had possibilities to walk away with the teams championship, with each also eligible to take the driver’s championship. Jonsson and Galati had qualified the car in the 3rd position, with the RSR MINI on pole and the Honda behind. The team fought hard for the entire race, and with only 15 minutes remaining, they would be subjected to a feeling called relief. The Honda of Ryan Eversly was caught up in a “kerfuffle”, and was intentionally spun by the driver of a competing Mazdaspeed3. This move singlehandedly dropped the Honda out of contention, and left only the MINI for Nic Jonsson to contend with. Even that would evaporate one lap later when the RSR MINI lost control of it’s shifter linkage and coasted to a stop on course. From that point onward, Jonsson simply had to “keep it on the island” as they say, and the title was his.

In the end, KIA came away from the 2011 season with their first victory, first driver’s championship, and first team’s championship in the companies motorsport history, still only two seasons old. This victory, and the resulting press coverage and accolade has been felt by the KIA of America decision makers. Not only will the two -car Forte Koup team be returning in Grand Am Continental Tire ST competition, but they have supposedly given the green light to an additional two car Optima Turbo SCCA Pro Racing World Challenge as well as the brand new Rio 5-door Spec B class car that was shown at SEMA last week. Kinetic Motorsport will be involved in the construction and running of each of these three cars. It’s a good time to be KIA.


  • dukeisduke

    Wow, from builder of crap cars to legitimate contender in motorsports in just a few short years. Congratulations, guys!

    And oh, great writing, Bradley.

  • I am glad to see that not just one manufacturer dominates, but Kia's winning ways does not make me want to buy a Forte, an Optima, or any other Kia. That said, I hope they can translate their motorsport victories into awesome cars over the next few years.

  • Paul_y

    There needs to be an international treaty organization to specifically prevent the use of carbon fiber for non-structural parts. It's just silly.

    …but beyond that, good for Kia. They've gone from being a joke to serious success on several fronts in an amazingly short time.

    • vwminispeedster

      CARBON FIBER ALL THE (non-structural) THINGS!!!!!1!!!111!!!!

    • BradleyBrownell

      SRSLY? What's wrong with CF? Its extremely light, and that's the point!

      • pj134

        To some it looks silly I guess because of boy racers and ultra fast CF stickers. Personally, I think if you can afford it go for it. If you can afford to paint it, even better.

        • If you can afford to cover it with woodgrain contact paper, all the better yet.

      • Paul_y

        It's obnoxious bling. Fiberglass just isn't as cool, I guess. CF isn't any lighter than fiberglass, and needlessly spendy. Applications like this say, "this project came in under budget, but we had to use it up or we won't get more money next year."

        • BradleyBrownell

          Carbon Fiber is significantly lighter than fiberglass. Fiberglass isn't as strong, so you have to lay it up thicker.

          Wet laid carbon is pointless, but autoclaved dry carbon is VERY light and very useful in racing applications.

          Carbon Fiber applique is pointless, real carbon rules.

          Also, if you paint it, it's not as light. defeats the purpose.

  • fisheater

    I honestly like the look of the Forte Koup and would not be ashamed to buy one. I know the factory Forte has only a vague connection to the team race car but I feel the victory validates my choice.

    • BradleyBrownell

      Its way more than vague. Those cars rolled off an assembly line. For all intents and purposes, its a "stock car"

  • FЯeeMan

    Is that a bluetooth handsfree speaker built into the bottom of the center stack? You'd think that a championship winning team could sport for a better pit-car communication setup.

  • BlackIce_GTS

    What would happen if they streetified this? A turnkey trackday car at… much cheaper, probably, then the next most expensive one. That I can think of. Autocrossers would squee? The general public haz confuse? I don't know.

    • BradleyBrownell

      To streetify it, you pretty much remove the roll cage, add an interior, airbags, surround sound, aircon, soundproofing, and drivetrain components strong enough to last the 100,000 miles of the warranty, and you have a 100% stock Kia Forte Koup. Go buy one…now.

      • BlackIce_GTS

        "remove the roll cage, add an interior, …, surround sound, aircon, soundproofing, and drivetrain components strong enough to last the 100,000 miles of the warranty"
        What I meant was not any of that, just the bare minimum required to qualify for a VIN (probably airbags?). Along the lines of the Aston Martin Vantage N24.
        Since 2500lbs is a mandated minimum weight, the street version would probably be lighter, even with the addition of airbags.