Catching Up With Toby Sowery
 April 28, 2020| 
  • Series News
Sowery Feature Apr 2020

It would be no exaggeration to say that Toby Sowery burst onto the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires scene not once, but twice. The 23-year-old Englishman hopes his American magic translates into a championship victory in 2020 and the chance to reach the pinnacle of racing in the States: the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

But what was a long and difficult off-season has become even longer as drivers and teams in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires wait anxiously for the start of the racing year at Road America in June – a track that saw another beginning for Sowery in 2018.

“It doesn’t feel that much different for me to be out of the car for so long as I have always faced uncertain times over the winter period,” stated Sowery. “If anything, it will level the playing field a bit more, since no one will have any seat time. We have to be ready to go whenever the season starts, but this break is making what already felt like an exceptionally long winter even longer.”

Sowery’s path to the Road to Indy was anything but straight. He won the 2014 British MSV F3 Cup and the 2015 MRF Challenge, then finished third in the 2016 BRDC British F3 series. While competing in British F3 again in 2017, the Benik team was looking for an experienced driver to help with its fledgling Cooper Tires USF2000 effort, so Sowery headed Stateside and earned an impressive 11th and third-place finish in his series debut at Barber Motorsports Park.

RTI_PDX_082019_J_8363In 2018, Sowery was once again asked to jump into a new ride, joining BN Racing (now HMD Motorsports) and rookie David Malukas to navigate their home race at Road America in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. He made the most of the opportunity, as the pair finished one-two in both races, with Malukas taking the sweep.

RTI_PDX_082019_K_5862At the last moment, just days before the 2019 season’s Spring Training test at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the team put together a deal for Sowery to once again pair up with Malukas, this time at the top of the Road to Indy ladder. Earning podium finishes at the season-opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., and capturing his first Road to Indy win at Portland, Sowery became a hot commodity as the off-season began, speaking with most of the Indy Lights teams regarding the 2020 season. He was happy to let the negotiations remain with his “team” consisting of parents Sharon and Dion.

“I try to stay out of negotiations as much as I can – my mum is a medical indemnity insurance underwriter so she’s quite good at contracts. She’s very switched on and quite sharp, and I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be here without her on my side. She handles everything before I head to the racetrack, whilst my dad helps at the racetrack. He was in the RAF for a few years when he was young, just at the end of the Falklands War. He has a very good mechanical knowledge and therefore a good idea of what’s going on with the car just by watching.”

But while the revamped HMD Motorsports team appeared to have the inside track for 2020, another team took the lead as the season grew closer – 2014 series champs Belardi Auto Racing.

“Everyone at Belardi was so nice last year – they were always the first to say ‘well done.’ So we knew them already and it was just a matter of them reaching out after the 2019 season was finished. We also knew we would have a good chance to continue with HMD, but we had some trouble sorting things out on our end. I had hoped to get a deal finalized early in the year, but it took much longer than expected.

“We’re happy with the way things turned out. Belardi is a great place to be; we have a good team around us and great sponsors behind us. We did a shakedown test just before the Spring Training at Homestead, so I could get used to the setup and the team environment.”

RTI_StP_032020__0526Joining 2019 Indy Pro 2000 runner-up Rasmus Lindh, Sowery and the team headed to what was supposed to be the first race of the season in St. Pete. But as the COVID-19 crisis began to escalate, the race promoter, with guidance from the mayor and governor, made the difficult decision to cancel the race weekend – but not before each of the Road to Indy series conducted a Friday morning practice session in a racetrack devoid of spectators.

“It was quite eerie on Thursday, all the silence. On Friday, we did our session with the mentality that we had the green light, that the weekend was a go, and it felt good to be on track. But then everything went quiet again, and the event was cancelled. It was a bit strange but considering the circumstances, I think it was the correct choice. We could all appreciate the gravity of the situation at the time, and with hindsight, it’s clear there was no other choice to be made.”

Sowery joins the rest of the racing world in making the most of the situation, working out at his Cambridge home and trying to finish his simulator setup in time to compete in the Ricmotech RTI iRacing eSeries finale this weekend at Mid-Ohio.

IMG-20200427-WA0000“Everything’s closed and we’re quarantined at home, but we’re fortunate to have a bit of space and have some gym equipment – a bike, a rowing machine, and room to do bodyweight exercise as well. I also have my dog, Nero, so that means I can get out and walk. I’m also sorting out a simulator so I can compete in the Road to Indy iRacing series. It will be fun to race against drivers I wouldn’t ordinarily have the chance to race against!”

Counting the days until Road America, Sowery knows that the Indy Lights field will once again prove to be highly competitive, with several contenders returning, including two-time runner up Santiago Urrutia, and five drivers graduating from Indy Pro 2000. But his plan for 2020 is simple.

“We’ve come here to win, it’s as simple as that. I would say half the grid is aiming to win. Santi is quick though he’s been out of the car for a while, but any driver of his talent won’t struggle getting back to race-winning pace. It’s a good mix – really quick drivers coming back and new drivers who have done a lot of testing.

“There are a lot of drivers new to the series, but definitely not new to the car. Like Kyle Kirkwood, he recently said he’s done more pre-season testing than he’s ever done. It was hard watching all that while I was still home trying to put something together. Similar to last year, my deal was very last minute but I’m getting used to it, just jumping in and going. I don’t think the practice times at Homestead or St. Pete were representative of what any of us can do going forward. If we’d completed qualifying, I know it would have been much better, and I think Rasmus would say the same thing. We’re ready to get at it.”

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