Kia taking the Rio racing, Optima Hybrid selected as pace car

Kia has only been racing for two years, but during this past season of the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, the plucky Korean brand recorded both its first-ever first place finish and won the driver and team championships for the entire season. Teams don't usually win their first race and wind up champions in the same season.

So Kia's good at racing, so good in fact that it plans to augment its program with a new B-Spec racer based on the recently redesigned Rio 5-door, as well as introduce a new pace car for the United States Touring Car Championship based on the Kia Optima Hybrid.

The new Rio 5-Door B-Spec racer will be made available to teams to compete in a variety of series, from World Challenge to GRAND-AM to SCCA and NASA events. The car is designed to meet showroom stock class requirements and will cost $14,000 on top of the purchase of a donor Rio 5-Door. Kia's racing partner, Kinetic Motorsports, is selling the kit and will install it for an extra $6,000. The automaker hopes the Rio's fuel efficiency will give it a leg up against competition on the track, which will likely include the Mazda2, Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta, among other showroom stock small cars.

Kia also provides the pace cars for USTCC and has decided that the Soul's run has come to an end. Instead, the 2012 season will see a Kia Optima Hybrid leading the field during warm ups and caution flags. Kia went with to get the Optima Hybrid ready for track duty (above). They installed a freer-flowing air intake, Magnaflow exhaust system, coil-over suspension system, front splitter and rear wing. The modifications will likely lower fuel economy a bit, but exposing the Optima Hybrid to a new group of potential buyers might be worth the extra fuel.

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