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

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).