We had an event with Southwest Kia Mesquite Dealer, celebrating their customer appreciation day. This event was family friendly environment with many games for the kids, and some even bringing their best costumes for Halloween and of course winning prices. They also had a Texas band playing some great music and of course the some drinks and food for everyone who wanted to celebrate with them.
The Streetkiaz.com Texas chapter group was also invited on this event, showing their best customize cars in the state of Texas, but as always, having this big type of events we also got people from different states, such a Arkansas, Louisiana and even Michigan! One of the Main attractions for a lot of us, Kia Fans, was the presence of some special guest and they were Russell Smith and Mark Wilkins, owner and CEO of Kinetic Motorsports and Kia Optima Driver #38 from Kia Racing program. Of course, we couldn’t pass this opportunity and we created an interview for all our readers.
Without any further adieu here is the interview, enjoy it!
1. How did you become a professional car driver?
I grew up on Go Karts, did a lot of Go Karting until i went to open racing for 6 to 7 years until i develop my driving skill. i decided in 2006 to switch to sports cars racing and ran in Grand AM and did some American Le Mans type driving and in a number of different cars like Daytona Prototype and Prototype Challenge. The opportunity came in 2012 to join Kia in their exciting Motorsports program with their Optima Turbo, been with them ever since and that is a quick snap of my history racing.
2. How did you become part of Kia Racing Team?
From my experience and results, the knowledge accrued over number of years in sports car racing, from Kinetic Motorsports stand point i raced against them for many years and they decided i was a good fit for the Optima program with Kia in the World Challenge. Basically results, experience and stability, that kind of get in and do the job for Kia and represent the brand well in an exciting new motorsports program.
3. What does it means for you to race for Kia?
Kia is an unbelievable brand; it has come so far in the last few years. Speaking specifically on the Optima, the design, look, feel, quality, value, warranty, there are so many great things that as a car buyer you can’t overlook the Optima, it has a wonderful package. It takes all the check boxes from the performance standpoint like it has a great chassis, great motor, great power, great torque and strong fuel economy, and then you get all the bells and whistles, panoramic roof, and the cool air condition seats which is one of my favorites. It’s undeniable that Kia is here to show all the automakers that they are really serious about building great cars.
4. As a professional driver, how was the adjustment from driving the Riley MK XX to the front wheel drive Kia Optima turbo?
Driving a front wheel car is a different animal, the Daytona prototype Riley that I drove for number of years, obviously, rear wheel drive car with high Horsepower, V8 engine and lighter on its feet, different type of class of car but jumping into front wheel drive, production based car it’s quite different. Obviously putting a little more power through the front wheels has its own challenges; it’s basically goes to the basic of driving a race car well, such as braking and getting to the apex as coming off the corner, so the team Kinetic Motorsports works really hard to get the most out of the Optima and improve on the package that Kia has given us which is really strong to start with and we just fine tune and make it work to compete against the Camaro, Nissan and Porsche that we race against.
5. Back in 2012, you won first place in your homeland circuit, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, the very first year program with Kia and Kinetic Motorsports. Can you tell me about this experience?
The Canadian Tire Motorsports Park is a track that I have a lot of experience, been that I’m only an hour away; I do a lot of driving coach development also a lot of racing there as I grew up. I had a lot of confidence going into that race, even though it was one of the first races I have done with the Kia team. The track surface really suited the Optima and we were really strong right away, a lot of that was the ability to stretch the legs of the car, the confidence and knowledge of the circuit as well not having a whole lot of track time, that also helped. It was a great result with Kia to get their first win, we stayed there the whole weekend with my team mates really early on the program but it was a great accomplishment for Kia and the Kinetic Motorsports program.
6. You got your first place of the 2013 season for Kia racing in the championship GTS in the Detroit Grand Pix race #7, tell us your experience on this race and how did you manage to keep the position.
We were really strong on this race, certain tracks suits certain cars and Detroit circuit worked really well for us. We worked really hard on the balance of the car, the power was really strong on the car and we got couple of good straights that we really stretch the legs of the turbo. One of the things that we race against V8 power cars is they have a lot of torque, so they come out of the corners really well, but with the 2 liter engine motor we don’t have a lot of torque until the turbo spool up. On tracks with a lot of slow speed corners we struggle a little bit and on the faster tracks like Detroit we really can stretch the legs of the car and showcase a strong suite, the combination of track and suite of the car, a lot of work and development that kinetic did with the car and get the setup dial in, gave us the opportunity to be up front and we just out ran and kept everyone behind us, it was a great race for us, especially in Detroit.
7. How does it feel placing 3rd place from the GTS Championship and positioning Kia 2nd in manufactures?
Our season just finished last weekend in Houston and I was third in the driver championship but more importantly Kia was second in manufactures, which is a huge accomplishment. Our closes rival is the Acura TSX, which finish third in manufactures, a car that has been racing and competing in the World Challenge for number of years, so it’s a great accomplishment for Kia in only 2 short years to finish second against Porsche, GM, Nissan, Acura and the likes. We did very well this year and lot of that comes down to the whole work we have done to the program and the development, ultimately just great basic package that Kia gave us to race with, with all things combine and putting it all together we made a really great season overall for Kia Racing.
8. Your last race was at the Reliant Park in Houston, because of the rain you had to switch tires. How did the Optima Turbo performed under those circumstances?
The car was really strong, we knew the track was going to dry eventually, which we obviously checked the radar before the race, and because it’s a short race we gambled a little and kept a little more of a dry setup on the car, in which a lot of our competitors went full wet setup. What that meant for us was, we struggle a little bit early on at the race with a little of lack of grip, obviously because been front wheel drive and when the turbo spool up you get a lot of wheel spin, so we struggle a little bit until the track started to dry and, as we thought, our paced picked up dramatically getting the fastest lap of the race by almost a full second. We gambled and its part of racing, and the Optima performed very well on the wet and even better once it started to dry, we were very strong.
9. Can you tell us what happen in the Toronto race and how you were able to place 4th with a DNF?
Toronto was an interesting race; we had very competitive strong cars there. We basically didn’t get to the finish line by less than half of lap but because our paces throughout the race we actually pass enough cars that there wasn’t physically enough time lap race for competitors behind us to actually pass us, for example if we had the issue a lap earlier, the result would been worst. We got a little bit lucky and in racing luck is part of it. In Toronto we were very lucky when it happened and we took that to make the most out of race.
10. I have to ask you this question and I hope you can answer it. The new Kia Koup Turbo will be on dealers soon, will Kinetic and Kia be using this car?
I’m not really sure; we are on the silly season time frame. Certainly the new Koup model will make a really great car for the track with the 1.6L T-GDi engine but to my knowledge I’m not really sure if there is any plan to use that model.
11. One of the biggest obstacles the Optima aftermarket community is having right now is the ECU tuning capabilities or rather the lack there of, how did your team overcome this? – Question asked by Brad William from our facebook page.
Our Optima, on ECU standpoint, are run by Bosch so it has a full standalone ECU, fully different ECU and we had to do that because just to get to the spec we needed to for the Motorsport program, the factory ECU wouldn’t allow us to make enough changes to make that work, so we had to go to a totally different system.
This was a great opportunity for us, we thank Kinetic Motorsport and Southwest Kia Mesquite for this great experience. Talking to Russell Smith we were able to made a great communication and hopefully soon we will be able to bring some new and great content from World Car News and Kinetic Motorsports!