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Thanks to cable tv, rally-style car racing is suddenly drawing a lot more fans in the U.S., and that's making extreme racing more appealing to automotive sponsors.

ESPN2 is providing the first-ever regular TV coverage of the Michelin/SCCA Pro Rally series. It's not the kind of sport that lends itself to on-site spectators: The cars race through dirt, snow, ice and mud on 200-mile-long courses in remote desert and mountain areas.

But now seen by a wider audience, rally racing is gaining momentum quickly, and ESPN plans to cover more events next year, said the events' producer, Replica Productions, Cambridge, Mass.


Carmakers find rally races to be an ideal, low-cost way to showcase durability and performance.

"It's an auto racing sponsorship we can afford-most racing sponsorships cost millions to get in, but you can get into rally sponsorship for well under $1 million," said Dan Prescott, product communication specialist for Saab Cars USA, a sponsor of one of this season's lead Pro Rally cars, a Saab 900 turbo sedan. Saab "hasn't ruled out" using its rally car in an upcoming ad campaign, he said.

Subaru, which was replaced by Michelin as title sponsor of U.S. rally four years ago, is now a key sponsor of similar races in Europe. This year, Subaru leveraged that role with a commercial featuring its winning car in Europe.

The spot, centering on the Impreza coupe, was created by Temerlin McClain, Irving, Texas, and began airing earlier this year on U.S. sports TV programs.

Subaru will be a major commercial sponsor of the European rally championships, owning rights for the U.S. telecast next month on Speedvision, an all-motorsports cable channel.

Hyundai Motor America, a U.S. Pro Rally sponsor, also featured its winning team in print ads from Bates USA, New York.

"It's a great way to demonstrate the durability of our vehicles in a very vivid-

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