Korean Kia Rally Car among mainstream automakers, the South Korean brand Kia stands as one of the newest entrants into top-level rally racing having debuted just in 2019. But Kia Motorsport’s efforts with rally-prepared versions of the Rio subcompact demonstrate serious intent to grow into legitimate competitors versus established makes like Hyundai and Toyota.
Let’s examine Kia’s fledgling factory rally program – the priorities driving their entry into WRC, their homologation of the Rio to Rally2 spec, and long-term aims to shake perceptions of Kia as merely a budget brand.
- 1 Why Korean Kia Rally Car Went Rallying
- 2 Early WRC Debuts for the Rio
- 3 Purpose-Built for Rally2 Spec
- 4 Future WRC Aspirations
- 5 Korean Kia Rally Car Looking Ahead
Why Korean Kia Rally Car Went Rallying
Kia’s motivations for investing in rally racing align with their broader shift towards performance-oriented brand marketing:
Enhancing Kia’s youth appeal and sporty aspirations for models like the Forte GT and Stinger through motorsports.
Challenging Kia’s reputation as a pragmatic, value-driven brand by demonstrating speed and passion.
Leveraging the WRC’s global footprint and media visibility to strengthen awareness and consideration.
Acquiring racing experience that translates into production performance models.
Capitalizing on the rally’s classic underdog appeal by positioning Kia as a spunky upstart.
With ex-Hyundai team director Andrea Adamo heading motorsports, Kia targeted rally racing specifically due to its close ties to road car production development.
Early WRC Debuts for the Rio
Kia’s rally racing efforts centered early on campaigning the front-wheel-drive Rio subcompact hatch in the WRC-2 competition during the 2019 season. Lacking all-wheel drive, the Rio competed against high-tech R5 cars but provided Kia engineers with useful data under race conditions.
The Rio relied on a tuned, naturally aspirated 1.6L engine pushing out over 210 horsepower – impressive for its size but still short on traction. Results proved underwhelming, but Kia focused on gaining experience while developing their proper Rally2 homologation Rio model in parallel.
Purpose-Built for Rally2 Spec
By 2021, Kia’s Rally2 competition variant of the Rio was complete and homologated for international competition. Significant modifications transformed the humble hatchback into a legitimate gravel and tarmac threat:
295 horsepower from an uprated 1.6L turbo engine
All-wheel drive traction with active center differential
Limited slip differentials front and rear
Upgraded 6-speed sequential transmission
Custom long-travel suspension design
Significant weight reduction and interior stripped for racing
The finished Rally2 Rio finally gave Kia a potent competitor. Drivers praised its sharp handling and strong acceleration exiting corners. Kia now had a platform to hone their rally craft.
Future WRC Aspirations
Kia’s formal WRC manufacturer entry under the new Rally1 hybrid regulations won’t come until 2024 at the earliest. But their Rally2 efforts help lay the foundation for eventual top-class participation.
Experience gained competing internationally, honing the Rio race car, and building their motorsports talent pipeline gives Kia time to methodically prepare and promote their entry. In contrast, past attempts like Toyota’s early WRC years proved premature. Careful progress underdogs Kia’s long game.
Korean Kia Rally Car Looking Ahead
As the newest kids on the WRC block, Kia’s measured approach aimed at sustainable growth makes strategic sense. Rather than rush with shortcuts, Kia Motorsport is playing the long game despite having fewer years than its rivals to refine rally engineering.
But Kia’s competitive focus demonstrates an appetite to overhaul perceptions of being merely an appliance automaker. Rally racing aligns perfectly with their makeover towards performance. The scrappy Rio racer already embodies this combative spirit as David takes on established Goliaths. With smart progress, Kia’s aims of rally respectability remain achievable.