This may not seem like big news, but it is: Kia Motors is celebrating their first professional racing victory, earned at last weekend’s Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge event at Barber Motorsports Park. A Kia Forte Koupe, driven by Michael Galati and Nic Jönsson, gained the lead on lap 54 and fought off the BMW 128i of Tim Bell and BJ Zacharias for the win in the Street Tuner (ST) class. Although this is Kia’s second year of professional racing, 2010 was considered a development year with little chance of podium finishes. Team expectations for 2011 were modest, and after the race driver Nic Jönsson remareked, “It’s so fantastic. Bringing Kia Motors to the top of the chart in one of the toughest sports car series in the world in less than two years. The goal for this year was to have one or two podiums. Now we have a first and a second.”
The win puts the Kinetic Motorsports team in second place in the team standing, and puts Kia second in the engine manufacturer standings. The real significance, beyond temporary bragging rights, is the evolution of Kia’s products as their racing efforts continue. Already poised as the “sport” brand to parent Hyundai’s sensible transportation options, Kia could pick up significant market share with continued race victories. Young enthusiasts don’t have any brand stigmas, and are just as likely to shop Hyundai or Kia as they are Mazda or Volkswagen. A racing pedigree will only help to bring enthusiast attention to the brand, who seems to be doing everything right these days. Now all they need is their own version of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe.