Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Telitz puts up self-imposed carbon fee during first Indy Lights season

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Aaron Telitz’s racing career has always been a little bit unconventional and outside-the-box. The free thinking native of Birchwood, Wis. now living in Minnesota is a rare mid-20-year-old veteran (he turns 26 in December) on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder, works at a golf course and knits when he’s not driving, has family ties to the Boston Red Sox and the birth of the national anthem at sporting events, and is an avid Star Wars fanatic.

But the 2016 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion and two-time race winner in his maiden season of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition this year opted to pay it forward in another unconventional but smart way: giving back to the environment with a self-imposed carbon fee.

An idea was developed between Telitz and Wisconsin Citizen’s Climate Lobby chapter leader Dan Herscher, that would see Telitz keep track of the fuel and tires used throughout a season at Belardi Auto Racing (roughly 60 sets of tires) and pay the fee depending on how much used to offset the emissions.

The results, and the ultimate low cost, were staggering.

By the CCL base number of $15 per ton of CO2 emissions, the fee imposed for the year was only $224, which covered 10 weekends and 16 races.

Telitz released the study in partnership with CCL about a month after the season ended and explained to NBC Sports how important this initiative was.

“We’d chatted about different ways to help combat climate change and lower emissions,” Telitz told NBC Sports. “Citizen’s Climate Lobby’s main mission … puts a price on carbon.

“So we thought it would be a fun and good way to show how much this would actually cost, contrary to beliefs this would be a ‘bad idea’ or would ‘price people way out of their price range.’ I’d donate whatever fee was based on emissions from on-track activity to donate to Citizen’s Climate Lobby.

“We used that number, and it only came out to $224. That kind of goes to show you in Indy Lights, where budgets are $1 million or more, $224 for an on-track carbon fee isn’t much.”

Herscher added how surprised he was the number was as low as it was.

“The coolest thing for me was when we added it all up, all the fuel and tires, I was bracing for it to be over $1000. It was just over $200,” Herscher told NBC Sports. “That was an amazing result, so putting a carbon fee in place isn’t going to break the bank.

“Taking that result and having this experiment work, means doing well for the environment won’t kill everything. We couldn’t quite do the dividends part. But if we did this nationwide, yeah prices would go up a little bit, but the dividends check would come back. It’s not as scary as most people assume.”

Further information about the carbon fee and dividend is linked here, via CCL’s website.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The amount of fuel and tire usage per weekend didn’t vary too much, Telitz said. A big oval will naturally use more fuel than a road or street course given the long straights, but it’s offset by lower stress and usage of tires. And as Indy Lights races are no-stop sprints with only one fuel tank and set of tires used in a race, if you’re using more than that in a day, it’s not been a good day.

Inspiration from Stefan Wilson’s solar energy push within racing was part of the reason for this new event, Herscher said.

“When Aaron and I talked about ideas, we talked with Stefan given he’s done a lot with solar,” he said. “Here, we wanted to draw attention to the what the carbon fee and dividend could be as far as a nationwide policy.”

Essentially the goal here is to illustrate how much could be saved by trying to avoid as much fossil fuel usage as possible down the road by giving back, and adding more cost to companies which produce too many CO2 emissions. As Herscher explained, the way CO2 emissions are emanating into the atmosphere, it’s as if the Earth is being treated as a natural garbage dump.

“One thing Aaron and I talked about is the rationale for a carbon fee,” Herscher said. “You don’t to get to throw your garbage anywhere; not on the side of the road for instance. That costs someone else money.

“But we treat the atmosphere like an open dump, and pretending like it doesn’t have a cost. The price doesn’t include damage to environment. That’s the point of the carbon fee, is to factor that cost into everyone’s decisions when they buy things.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Telitz said raising awareness was a big key of the yearlong project, and he’s also received inquiries from other racing teams about doing something similar and donating to another outlet – it does not have to be the Citizen’s Climate Lobby.

“You have to look up what a carbon fee and dividend would do,” Telitz said. “Hopefully politicians will say, ‘Hey, this is a good idea.’ It’s a great way to get energy companies to get away from using fossil fuels. So this will hit coal, natural gas, and carbon-emitting fuels. And so it’ll get them in the direction of using renewable fuel sources.”

With some forms of racing having already explored alternative fuel forms, namely ethanol blends, hybrid technology, electric technology, or even hydrogen-powered technology, it’s apparent fossil fuels won’t be around forever to power racing cars.

And for Telitz, who is working on securing a return to Indy Lights for a sophomore season after staying fresh with both Pro Mazda and USF2000 testing at last month’s Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, getting ahead of the curve here is key to furthering his own career while giving back a little bit to the environment as a result.

“For me to be an advocate, you have to put your money where your mouth is,” he said. “I’m driving a racecar operating on high-powered fuel. There’s a place for racing even in a world while we’re trying to erase CO2 emissions.

“So racing isn’t going to cost that much in terms of if you pay for the carbon fee. That should take the fear out of it.

“Racing will always be there. We’ve raced horses for years, and then as the joke goes, from the time there was the first car, there was the second, and so there goes car racing. This is a way to show racing will exist in a way beyond fossil fuels going away.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Behind the scenes of how the biggest story in racing was kept a secret

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In a world where nobody is able to keep a secret, especially in auto racing, legendary business leader and race team owner Roger Penske and INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles were able to keep the biggest story of the year a secret.

That was Monday morning’s stunning announcement that after 74 years of leadership and ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hulman George Family was selling the track, the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR to Penske.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports.com on Thursday, Miles revealed the extreme lengths both sides went to so that nobody found out about this deal ahead of time. That included meeting with Penske at his Detroit offices early on Saturday mornings and late on Sunday nights.

The most important way of keeping it confidential was containing the number of people who were involved.

“We thought it was important to keep it quiet until we were ready to announce it,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “The reason for that is No. 1, we wanted employees and other stakeholders to hear it from us and not through the distorting rumor mill.

“That was the motivation.

“We just didn’t involve many people. For most of the time, there were four people from Roger’s group in Michigan and four people from here (IMS/INDYCAR) involved and nobody else. There were just four of us. We all knew that none of the eight were going to talk to anybody about it until very late.”

Even key members of both staffs were kept out of the loop, notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who admitted earlier this week he was not told of the impending sale until Saturday when he was at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR race.

Both Penske and Miles realize the way a deal or a secret slips out is often from people far outside of the discussions who have to get called in to work to help set up an announcement.

Miles had a plan for that scenario, too.

“On Saturday, we had to set up a stream for Monday’s announcement,” Miles said. “We came up with an internal cover story so if anybody saw what was going on, there was a cover story for what that was, and it wasn’t that announcement.

“The key thing was we kept it at only those that needed to know.”

It wasn’t until very late Sunday night and very early Monday morning that key stakeholders in INDYCAR were informed. Team owner Bobby Rahal got a call at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Racing legend Mario Andretti was also informed very early on Monday.

At 8 a.m. that day came the official word from Hulman & Company, which owns the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR as well as a few other businesses, that Penske was buying the racing properties of the company. It was an advisory that a media conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was a masterful move by both Penske and Miles.

Penske is already famous for keeping one of greatest secrets in racing history in 1993 and 1994. That is when his famed racing team along with Ilmor Engineering created “The Beast” – a 209 cubic-inch, pushrod engine that was designed, developed and tested in total secrecy. A small, select group of Team Penske mechanics were involved in the top-secret project and were told by Penske that if word of the engine leaked out, “it would be like cutting your paycheck.”

Nobody talked.

History repeated itself with the biggest racing story of the 21st Century, the sale of the world’s most famous race course that hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world – the annual Indianapolis 500.

When INDYCAR held its “Victory Lap” award ceremony on Sept. 26 in Indianapolis, Miles told the crowd of an impending announcement that would be big news for the sport.

Was he coming close to giving away Monday’s announcement?

“No, that was about a sponsor announcement that will be coming along later,” Miles said on Thursday night.

Penske is one of America’s greatest and most successful business leaders. He is also the most successful team owner in auto racing history with 545 wins in all forms of racing including a record 18 Indianapolis 500 wins, a record 16 NTT IndyCar Series championships as well as two Daytona 500 wins and two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championships just to name a few.

Penske was not the only bidder, but he was the one who made the most sense to the Hulman George Family, because it was important to find an owner who believed in “stewardship” of the greatest racing tradition on Earth more so than “ownership” of an auto racing facility and series.

“There were a number of parties that were engaged in thinking about this with us,” Miles revealed to NBC Sports.com. “There were a couple that got as far as what I call the ‘Red Zone.’

“Then, Tony George reached out to Roger Penske on Sept. 22.

“Price and value were always important, but the thing that nobody could match was the attributes that Roger could bring to the table, in terms of his history of the sport, his knowledge of the sport, combined with his business sense.

“He was viewed as the leader from a legacy or stewardship perspective, which was a very important factor.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

McLaren IndyCar boss breaks down team’s first test since missing Indy 500

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McLaren Sporting Director Gil De Ferran left Sebring International Raceway last Tuesday with a much happier outlook than when he left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19.

That was when McLaren and famed two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ill-prepared. They failed to make the 33-car starting lineup for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

That day in May, De Ferran vowed that McLaren would return.

Last Tuesday, what is now known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP after purchasing into Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, De Ferran was back to evaluate the team’s NTT IndyCar Series effort.

Instead of Alonso in the cockpit, it was the team’s recently named full-time drivers for 2020 at the test. That included 20-year-old Pato O’Ward of Monterrey, Mexico, the 2018 Indy Lights champion and 22-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida, the 2019 Indy Lights champion.

O’Ward was in the car for the test with Askew watching from the pit area.

“Pato did a great job, did not put a foot wrong, got on to it straight away and it was all good,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “It was a positive day on all fronts. To work together, to build the team together and embark on this team together was very positive.”

De Ferran is a two-time CART champion with titles in 2000 and 2001 when he was with Team Penske. He also won the 2003 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske before retiring as a driver at the end of that season.

Since then, he has been involved in numerous Formula One, IndyCar and Sports Car efforts. As McLaren’s Sporting Director, De Ferran is involved in both Formula One and IndyCar.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP also includes partners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson. Arrow also has a financial stake in the team in addition to serving as sponsor.

The chance to work with two young drivers is something that has De Ferran excited.

“They are both very young, but they have been around for a while,” De Ferran said. “It’s not like these guys are completely clueless about racing. They have been racing ever since they were kids. Generally speaking, as a trend in motorsports, they start much younger than I did. They move to cars at a younger age and tend to reach this level of the sport at a younger age then when I was coming up.

“Although they don’t have a lot of experience in IndyCar, several members of the team can help in their development. These guys are very accomplished and top-level guys. They have won a lot of races and championships before getting the nod from our team.”

Last week’s test was part of INDYCAR’s evaluation of the new aeroscreen that will be on all cars beginning in 2020. Arrow McLaren Racing SP is a Chevrolet team. Honda team Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan also participated in the test with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais as the driver.

This was the only test that Arrow McLaren Racing SP will conduct in 2019. Testing time is severely limited De Ferran said it won’t be back on track until the 2020 regulations take effect.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP has already experienced some controversy after the team said several weeks ago that popular driver James Hinchcliffe would not be driving for the team. He remains on the payroll and is expected to be at the track in a public relations capacity.

That has angered many IndyCar fans who are huge fans of the popular Canadian driver.

“I have nothing more to add to this than what was said at the time,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s head-down. We have to go racing. We are on a journey here together with this partnership and two young drivers that are very accomplished and have a lot of talent. Our job is to deliver the results on the track.

“That is where my focus is. I’m completely focused on improving every aspect of everything that we do trackside.

“One thing I guarantee you, whatever we start, to have that focus to improve everything that we do we will continue to move forward. It was like that when I was driving, and it was like that throughout my professional career away from the cockpit. We will keep looking for opportunities to improve.

“Eventually, good things will happen.”

It was just Day One on the track, but after seeing this team struggle at last year’s Indianapolis 500, McLaren took its first step in returning as a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team.

“This is the beginning of a journey that we embarked on several months ago now and you do a lot in the background,” De Ferran said. “The guys from SPM and us have put a lot into this partnership. Behind the scenes, we have been working hard together.

“We’re all racers, man. We want to see cars on track. This has been like a little check off the box and it feels good that we were on track.

“We have a long journey ahead, but it’s good to be working together, at the race track, how the car is handling, the engine is working and how the drivers do.

“First day on the track for Arrow McLaren Racing SP. It’s a good day.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500