As widely expected, after Toni Elias appeared at Sepang with a large sticker on his screen, Gresini today announced a new sponsorship agreement with Taiwanese LCD manufacturer HANNspree. This is not HANNspree's first venture into motorcycle racing, as they earlier announced that they would be sponsoring the Ten Kate Honda team in World Superbikes, replacing another cigarette brand, Winston.
This agreement opens some interesting perspectives. First and foremost, it demonstrates that motorcycle racing is not as dependent upon tobacco sponsorship as it believes itself to be. Tobacco has always been an easy touch for motorsports in general, after being declared persona non grata by just about all other sports, and being banned from other forms of advertising. With more and more countries putting tobacco advertising bans in place for all sporting events, even motorsports are losing their attraction for tobacco sponsors. The one exception to this rule is currently Marlboro, who, because they have built a brand instantly recognizable by their colors alone, can afford to remove their brand name from sponsorship, and just carry their red and white colors.
The other noteworthy aspect of this agreement is the link with Ten Kate, the "official" Honda team in World Superbike. James Toseland's name has been linked very strongly with a move to MotoGP in the near future, and he was even in the frame for a ride with d'Antin Ducati for 2007, but he decided against moving to MotoGP for an uncompetitive ride. However, Dorna and the BBC would love to see the highly popular young Briton go to MotoGP, to enhance the series' popularity in the UK. And in lapping just over a second off MotoGP pace when he was given the opportunity to ride Dani Pedrosa's RC211V after the final Valencia MotoGP round, Toseland has shown that he is capable of being competive. With both Ten Kate and Gresini on bikes from the same manufacturer, funded by the same sponsor, a move to a competitive MotoGP ride just got a lot closer for Toseland.