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Racing Street Legal Kias on the Unforgiving Rally Roads of Peru August 20th, 2012

Dirt flying, rubber burning, and your engine roaring as you drift through hair-pin turns – “Drive hard, drive fast, and don’t stop!” Welcome to the world of rallying, a pedal to the metal, heart-pumping race over stretches of public streets and rough rural roads with modified production or specially built road-legal cars. If you have ever experienced the thrill of handling your car down a twisty back-country road, then you’ve got a sense of what we’re talking about. Rally cars blast through some of the toughest terrain and climates, and wherever a course is located, one thing is for certain – it takes guts, talent and heart to handle the adrenaline-charged action of this spectacular and unpredictable style of auto racing.

Alvaro Brandes is a Kia sponsored Peruvian rally driver who possesses the aforementioned qualities, and he has been pushing both the Kia Cerato (Forte) and Rio through championship victories on some of the toughest rally terrain on earth. And guess what? He’s very good at what he does. Alvaro has been carving a name for himself and Kia in the Peruvian Federation of Motor Sports (FEPAD), and Kia-Buzz caught up with him to discuss his recent championship and experience with Kia vehicles.

But before we jump-in, here’s a little rally racing basics for those of you not familiar with the sport.

Rally Racing Basics:

  • Competitors race one car at a time against the clock, usually at one minute intervals.

  • Events are usually several hundred miles long, often lasting for several days.

  • Each car has a driver and a co-driver (or navigator).

  • In-between the racing stages, the cars travel over public roads and are required to obey all traffic laws.

So, what has this got to do with your Kia Cerato (Forte) and Rio?

Rally cars are built to withstand real-world driving conditions. Racing takes place on public roads that come in all sorts of conditions ranging from extremely good to insanely bad. Whereas most race cars are extremely-modified, and housed in fragile exterior shells, a rally car is essentially the opposite. Although modifications are made, these cars must be able to drive on public roads during events, so they must be kept street legal. You can think of rally racing as the ultimate proving ground for your street car.

Interview with Alvaro Brandes

How long have you been racing in the FEPAD Rally?

I have been participating in the Peruvian Rally Championship since 2002. During this time, we have been able to achieve five victories, and come in second place twice.  In 2008, I signed an agreement with Kia and since then we have won the 4×2 National Championships for 2008 and 2009.

We have also placed second for 2010 and 2011. This year we decided to participate with the new Rio 5. Out of 88 rally races; we have won 29; placed second 32 times, third 11 times, fourth twice; and fifth four times.

I achieved 8 first places, 13 second places and 2 third places with the Kia Cerato (Forte) and Rio. The numbers indicate 33% of first places and that I was able to reach the podium in 81.8% of the races.

Why did you decide to become a race car driver?

It is not what I do for a living, but I dedicate a lot of my time and commitment to it. During the day I am an Operations Manager at Prodis SAC, a family-owned pharmaceutical storage company. Nonetheless, this has been my hobby since childhood and on the weekends I train with an ATV.

What are some of the most important qualities to be a good rally driver?

The most important qualities are to win rallies is to be fast and remain calm during the complicated moments. To know when to accelerate and when not to, and above all to have passion for what you do.

Do you have any race day routines/rituals you have to follow?

The routine starts on Wednesday nights. We travel to the rally area. On Thursday and Friday we prepare the route sheet. Saturdays and Sundays are the two racing days, which take place in front of thousands of people. As a ritual, I always put on my right glove first.

What was the biggest challenge of the FEPAD rally?

Having a car that is consistently fast and reliable on all tracks where the rallies take place. Four of the seven Peru rallies take place in altitudes as high as 2800 and 4200 meters above sea level. Also the varying weather conditions in our country force us to drive in rain, mud and heat.

Which is your favorite track to race on?

I have two. I really enjoy the rallies in the cities of Cuzco and Huancayo because they have the best tracks.

What is the most challenging part about racing? What is the most fun part?

The most challenging part is to be able to come up with the budget to participate in the National Championship. The most fun part is when the rally actually starts and you are able to accelerate!

What kind of modifications did you make to your car for this race? How do you think that affected your performance?

We dismantled and put together the vehicle in our small preparation shop called Pro rally, I have 4 mechanics that assist me. We were able to put together the Kia Rio in 5 weeks. The Rio has the mandatory modifications regarding security such as the seats, cage, fire extinguishers, among others and the performance spare parts such as the rally suspensions, the front self-blocking, the low gear ratio and the replacement of some spare parts for lighter ones in order to make the car lose some weight and comply with policy. The rest of the components are basically originals. The engine for example only has one ECU set and it is 100% mechanic and standard.

You’ve had quite a history of racing with Kia vehicles. How would you compare the Rio vs. the Cerato/Forte?

I have had the chance to drive with the Kia Cerato hatchback and we won the Nationals twice in the N3 category, then I participated with the Cerato sedan achieving two second places in the Nationals, and this year I drove the Rio 5 which has already won during its debut. The Cerato is pretty stable and fast in the speed tracks as well as long courses with curves. Regarding the Rio, it reacts faster to the steering wheel due to its size, and it’s easier to maneuver on the narrow tracks. Also, it’s lighter, which makes it highly competitive. Peruvian fans are delighted with its looks and nowadays it’s one of most attractive vehicles.

What are some of the strengths of Kia cars?

Kia manufactures very strong cars. For example, we are able to participate in a seven full leg championship (14 days of competition) with the same suspension, spare parts and steering whereas before we had to change spare parts every two or three tracks with other automakers. We drive on tracks that are in bad shape with holes and trenches, and sometimes the car even gets hit, but it never breaks anything that would take us out of the rally. Part of Kia´s success is that it makes very reliable cars, especially even they’re pushed to 100% of their potential, which is exactly what we do, and we’ve achieved great results!

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    I see that Kia recently dynamically develops and promotes. Many new car models as well as promotion in other areas such as rallies or last Kia Forte Koup race at Indianapolis Speedway