Rallying: Teams in sponsor row

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The Independent Online
CITROEN and the French-run Mitsubishi team could face a pounds 6.2m fine after an anti-tobacco group won a court order for alleged illegal cigarette advertising on the teams' cars and drivers in the Paris-Peking Rally which have appeared in the French media.

The British-based firm, Rothmans, partly sponsor Mitsubishi, while Citroen are backed by Camel, and if the judgment by a court in Quimper on Friday is upheld after appeal, rallies such as the Paris-Peking could be in jeopardy. Long-distance races, taking place in countries where tobacco advertising is largely unregulated, are seen as one the few long-term sponsorship avenues still open to cigarette manufacturers, whose contribution runs into millions of pounds.

It has cost pounds 25m to stage the Paris-Peking and although the main sponsor is the Japanese electronics company NEC, the tobacco money is crucial to the economic success of the venture and the appearance of major teams.

Rothmans, who spend pounds 10m a year on rally raids, plans to back the Paris-Cape Town Rally in January, but a spokesman said yesterday that if the ruling is enforced 'we might have to rethink our plans'.

Yesterday's 296km special stage from Korla to Shanshan in western China was won by Germany's Erwin Weber in a Mitsubishi, but the day's racing was overshadowed by accidents involving two support helicopters. A 20-seat helicopter lost hydraulic pressure at 5,000 feet and had to crash land. No one was injured but some passengers were treated for shock. In the other incident, a Gazelle carrying a television crew lost power, injuring a reporter.