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Racing meets the street at NAIAS

The C7.R race car, which makes its world debut at the North American International Auto Show, was developed in conjunction with the Z06 production car. Chevrolet

DETROIT -- The increasingly fine line between race cars and their production counterparts is on full display at the annual North American International Auto Show.

The NAIAS, which runs through Jan. 26 at Detroit's Cobo Center, features the world debut of the Corvette C7.R race car that will compete in the GTLM class of the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship, as well as the Z06 version of the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray it is based on.

The Z06/C7.R is a classic example of how racing improves the breed. The aerodynamics of the two cars were developed together, which is entirely appropriate given the 200-mph capability of the fastest road-going Corvette in the 60-year-plus history of America's most enduring sports car.

In fact, with a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 that produces an estimated 625 horsepower, the Z06 is actually more powerful than its racing counterpart, which is limited to 5.5 liters of naturally aspirated capacity and roughly 500 horsepower.

Chevrolet staged a publicity stunt for the introduction of the Corvettes during the NAIAS media days by trucking the C7.R to the show on an open-air trailer from the GM Technical Center in Warren, Mich., with the car still wrapped in the checkered flag-motif vinyl disguise in which it first appeared at recent TUSCC test sessions at Sebring International Raceway and Daytona International Speedway. A pair of 2013 Corvette Indianapolis 500 Pace Cars led a convoy through the Detroit area freeways and streets that swelled to include 50 C7-generation 'Vettes.

In another measure of just how potent modern sports cars have become, the Z06 is actually more powerful than the Chevrolet- and Honda-powered cars that compete in the Indianapolis 500, which are limited to around 550 horsepower in oval trim.

"Corvette Racing sets the gold standard for technology transfer between the track and street," said Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter. "We are continually taking what we learn in competition, and applying it to improve production Corvettes -- which then make better race cars. As a result, the new Corvette Z06 is the most track-capable production Corvette ever while the new C7.R is poised to be even more competitive on the race circuit."

With economic conditions in America improving, to the benefit of the automotive industry in general, there is a greater racing presence at NAIAS 2014 than in recent years. NASCAR is represented by stock cars on the Toyota and Chevrolet stands; fans can get a close look at a NASCAR V-8 engine at Chevy, while the Toyota display also includes an NHRA Funny Car.

Mazda claims that on any given weekend, more of its products are in action on American road racing circuits than any other brand. At the NAIAS, the marque featured the diesel-powered Mazda6 sedan that participated in the GX class of the now-defunct Grand-Am championship, as well as the Multimatic-produced prototype chassis it will campaign in the P2 class of the TUSCC, also featuring twin-turbo diesel power.

Mazda's SkyActiv philosophy, which emphasizes smaller displacement engines and reduced curb weight, benefits from the company's extensive history in road racing, which includes an overall victory in the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans.

"We're thrilled that Mazda will be back competing for overall victories in the top prototype category with IMSA and the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship," said Mazda director of motorsports John Doonan. "This is Mazda's most significant and ambitious motorsports initiative in decades -- really, since we took on the challenge of racing at Le Mans, which ultimately resulted in our victory at the 24-hour race."

Other racing cars on display at the NAIAS include a pair of Dallara DW12 Indy cars on the Chevrolet stand, including Tony Kanaan's Indianapolis 500 winner. The iconic Borg-Warner Trophy, which is annually presented to the Indy 500 winner, is present on one of its rare outings from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.

Nissan's Infiniti brand has entered into a sponsorship agreement with the Red Bull Racing Formula One team, with F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel serving as the brand's performance director. Vettel's 2011 championship-winning Red Bull RB7 is on display at the NAIAS, and Infiniti says the German ace played a role in the development of the recently introduced Q50 sports sedan.

Significant production car debuts in Detroit include the 2015 Ford Mustang, which includes independent rear suspension and has been designed for international sales for the first time in the 50-year history of the iconic pony car. Ford also showed the next generation of the F-150 pickup truck, which utilizes aluminum body panels that will reduce curb weight by up to 700 pounds over the outgoing model.

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, the Ford Fusion can be proud because the Chrysler 200 is a virtual carbon copy of Ford's popular midsize sedan from many angles. Based on a stretched Alfa Romeo platform that also forms the basis of the Dodge Dart, the 200 replaces the outdated and unloved Chrysler of the same name as well as the rental car special Dodge Avenger.

BMW unveiled the production versions of the M3 sedan and M4 coupe, high-performance versions of the company's top-selling 3- and 4-series vehicles. Honda showed the U.S. version of the Fit subcompact, as well as the Acura TLX, which replaces the TL and TSX models.

Performance car fans will be interested in the new Subaru WRX STi and the R version of the Generation 7 Volkswagen Golf, while the Hyundai Genesis, Cadillac ATS coupe and Mercedes-Benz C-Class represent the latest in luxury car trends.

The top concept car on display is the Toyota FT-1, a two-seat sports car that blends styling cues from the popular Scion FR-S (nee Toyota GT-86 and Subaru BRZ) and the iconic Toyota 2000GT, of which only approximately 350 examples were produced from 1967 to 1970.

As always, the NAIAS is a worthwhile destination for anyone who enjoys cars or the latest in automotive technology.