BAT quits rallying

BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO has pulled its 555 State Express brand out of the World Rally Championship after six years with the Prodrive Subaru team. The relationship resulted in three Constructors' World titles in 1995-96-97 and one Drivers' title for Colin McRae in 1995.

It had been thought that a 555-Prodrive deal was in place for 1999 and the late nature of the announcement - just 12╩days before the end of the relationship - would seem to suggest that there has been a change of heart within British╩American╩Tobacco.

This is no great surprise as the tobacco company has been forced to reorganize its plans following the banning of twin liveries in Formula 1 racing. British American Racing had been planning to run one car in Lucky Strike colors and a second in 555 livery. The entire package had been put together using money from a variety of BAT subsidiaries and once the twin livery idea was banned some of these were no longer interested in the F1 program as they wanted to promote a particular brand.

The move would seem to suggest that British American Racing will run in 555 blue and yellow rather than the red and white of Lucky Strike. Rallying was being used because the sport has more impact in Asia than F1 can currently claim but with the focus of Grand Prix racing switching towards the Asian market it makes sense for 555 to be used in F1.

The news may create an interesting opportunity for other F1 teams as there are BAT subsidiaries who want to promote the Lucky Strike brand and these could work together to fund a second sponsorship. Much depends on the attitude of BAT's director of global sponsorships Tom Moser. He is a Canadian and has gained considerable cudos within BAT for his support of Jacques Villeneuve and Craig Pollock.

In the past Moser has blocked other BAT deals in F1 - notably an agreement between Arrows and the Hollywood cigarette brand - to ensure that BAT's money was concentrated behind BAR.

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