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Over sev­eral decades, bike rac­ing was a favourite shop win­dow for the to­bacco giants. The sport had ev­ery­thing they wanted: glam­our, hero­ism, adren­a­line and a whiff of dan­ger. But all that came to an end a decade ago when to­bacco spon­sor­ship was banned due to smok­ing’s health im­pli­ca­tions.

Marl­boro, Roth­mans and who else? It’s a long list, but here’s a few that have spon­sored var­i­ous forms of mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing: Cabin, Camel, Ch­ester­field, For­tuna, Gi­tanes, Gauloises, HB, John Player Spe­cial, Kool, Lucky Strike, L&M, Marl­boro, MS, Parisi­enne, Peter Jack­son, Roth­mans and West. Dur­ing most of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, much of the Mo­togp grid was funded by the to­bacco in­dus­try. These were the sport’s rich­est years, when teams grew fat on the boun­ti­ful bud­gets be­stowed upon them by ur­bane to­bacco ex­ec­u­tives who swag­gered around the pad­dock like they owned the place, which of course they did.

What ef­fect did the money have? To­bacco largesse trans­formed the whole scene – it changed the non­fac­tory teams from strug­gling, scruffy gangs into well-dressed out­fits. Brand names ruled. To­bacco bosses poured in mil­lions and they wanted the sport to look up­mar­ket and glam­ourous. Most of the first hos­pi­tal­ity units were bankrolled by cig­a­rette money, so the cash for­ever changed the way the pad­dock and grid looked. And what about the rac­ing it­self? It dra­mat­i­cally im­proved the rac­ing. Be­fore to­bacco spon­sor­ship got se­ri­ous in the late 1980s, only the fac­to­ries could af­ford to run the best ma­chin­ery. Non-fac­tory teams strug­gled along with bikes that were noth­ing like as quick as the fac­tory kit. But when the to­bacco bosses started flash­ing their cheque books at non­fac­tory squads, the teams sud­denly had more than enough money to lease fac­tory-spec bikes; ini­ti­at­ing a sys­tem that ex­ists to this day. It’s no co­in­ci­dence that most su­per-close premier-class race fin­ishes have been achieved since to­bacco cash surged in.

Which was the first team to get to­bacco cash? It wasn’t a team, it was a rider: Gi­a­como Agos­tini. The 15-time world cham­pion first wore a dis­crete Marl­boro badge on his leathers in the early 1970s, when he was rid­ing for MV. The Swiss-based to­bacco barons didn’t only want Ago for his speed, they also chose him be­cause the some­time movie star and full-time heart­throb would take them into the high-so­ci­ety party set, so their cig­a­rettes would be suf­fused with jet­set glam­our. In 1976 Ago got enough money from Marl­boro to lease MVS for the fac­tory’s swan­song GP sea­son.

Did Ago smoke? No, but some rac­ers did; most fa­mously Barry Sheene, who was so hope­lessly ad­dicted to nico­tine that he like to drill a hole in the chin piece of his hel­mets, so he could en­joy a sneaky puff while await­ing the start of a race. Sheene died from throat and stom­ach cancer in 2003, at the age of 52.

Who was the last racer who smoked his ri­vals on the track and sparked-up in the pits? Luca Cadalora. The 125cc and 250cc world champ and 500cc GP win­ner

liked a tab as soon as he re­turned to the pits af­ter a race, just as Sheene had done. For some years Cadalora rode for Marl­boro, so the Philip Mor­ris bosses must’ve loved him. He now works as Valentino Rossi’s rider coach.

Any fag-funded rac­ers who didn’t like smok­ing? Plenty – rac­ers are ath­letes who have to be se­ri­ously fit and strong, so most have an in­built ha­tred of smok­ing. John Kocin­ski, who raced for Marl­boro Yamaha and Lucky Strike Suzuki, was very anti-smok­ing. While he was rid­ing for Marl­boro Yamaha he walked into a team press con­fer­ence, wear­ing full Marl­boro re­galia, and asked a jour­nal­ist to ex­tin­guish his cig­a­rette.

What hap­pened when the to­bacco com­pa­nies left? Grand Prix rac­ing nearly col­lapsed. The ban on to­bacco spon­sor­ship at the end of 2006 couldn’t have come at a worse time – a few years af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of the phe­nom­e­nally ex­pen­sive Mo­togp four-strokes and just be­fore the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis. Sev­eral big teams went to the wall be­cause their pri­mary fund­ing dis­ap­peared overnight.

Now ev­ery­thing’s OK, right? Not re­ally. Money is still tight. When Dorna an­nounced they are dou­bling pay­ments to non-fac­tory teams, they cited the dis­ap­pear­ance of fag money as one of the prime rea­sons.

But don’t Marl­boro still spon­sor Du­cati’s Mo­togp team? Yes, Marl­boro are the only to­bacco brand still in­volved. Ac­cord­ing to law, they aren’t al­lowed to dis­play any lo­gos, so their in­vest­ment no longer has any value in sell­ing cig­a­rettes. In­stead they use their in­volve­ment to wine and dine cor­po­rate guests, re­ward em­ploy­ees and so on.

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The Marl­boro men… Wim­mer, Cadalora (who liked a post-race smoke) Ago, Mcel­nea and Law­son HB cig­a­rettes lit up Niall Macken­zie’s grand prix ca­reer dur­ing the late 80s Wayne Gard­ner went right to the top thanks to Roth­mans’ cash

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