Get to Know Indy Lights Rookie Toby Sowery
 May 2, 2019| 
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Toby Sowery Catching Up

“Honestly, I can’t remember not racing,” says Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires rookie Toby Sowery. The 22-year-old Brit, who began karting soon after he could walk and has steadily progressed up the racing ladder, has created plenty of new racing memories over the past year. Parlaying a double podium with BN Racing and David Malukas at their home track at Road America last year into a successful Indy Lights debut this season, Sowery hopes to continue with the team through the 2019 campaign and make a run at the championship title – and the scholarship that would earn him entry into three NTT IndyCar Series races including the renowned Indianapolis 500.

Sowery’s story begins, as so many racing stories do, with a karting party.

“I was 3 or 4 when I first got into a kart on holiday. When I was 7 or 8 one of my friends had a karting party and I loved it. I just kept going back. After that it’s the standard story:  get your own kart, start racing properly, get competitive – and then it all spirals out of control from there. It takes you for a ride, rather than the other way around!”

Sowery racked up karting titles through his teens, including the 2011 Super 1 National Junior TKM Championship and the 2012 Kartmasters British Grand Prix but it wasn’t until he raced in the 2014 MSV Formula 3 Cup that racing began to get serious.

“It was so expensive – there’s a huge difference between crashing a kart and crashing a race car. That made me really evaluate how serious I was about racing. I loved karting but it wasn’t a career choice. The F3 Cup showed me how much more effort went into this kind of racing, so that was the eye opener for me. It takes a while to figure out what it’s all about.”

Winning the F3 Cup title with 10 wins and podium finishes in all 14 races, Sowery headed to Asia to compete in the winter MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Series, which he also won against drivers with much more experience. He competed in 15 British F4 races with Fortec Motorsports before moving to British Formula 3 in 2016. Sowery made his first real impact on the world stage that season, finishing third in the title chase with victories at some of the most legendary tracks in England: Brands Hatch, Silverstone and Donington. 

“Winning at a track like Brands Hatch – it’s not an easy circuit and because of the noise restrictions, you can’t really test there, so to come away with a win was great. I went from sixth to first on the opening lap, which was difficult on such a tight track, so that was one of the better races of the season. And the win at Silverstone stands out as well, beating drivers like Lando Norris, who’s in F1 now. They’re quite fond memories.”

If 2016 was about learning single seaters, 2017 was about broadening his experience level. Sowery’s management approached him with an offer from Team Lazarus to race in Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia and the Super Trofeo World Final at Imola, and while initially dismissive of the idea, Sowery found a home, going on to race the 2018 International GT Open series with Daiko Lazarus Racing.

“I really wanted to focus on single seaters, and I had never raced a sports car before. But we ended up having a really strong relationship with the Lazarus team, and since we didn’t have the budget to proceed any further up the single seater ladder, it made sense. I really enjoyed working with the team and I’m quite keen to continue racing the Lamborghini GT3, but honestly, my heart is still in single seaters.”

It was through Sowery’s connections at Fortec Motorsports that he made his first foray into the Road to Indy. Dan Mitchell, who ran Fortec’s British F4 team, introduced Sowery to Nick Mitchell at Benik Motorsport Group, when the team was looking for an experienced driver to help them in their first Cooper Tires UFS2000 Championship race weekend at Barber Motorsport Park. His impressive 11th and third-place finishes in his first races driving the Tatuus USF-17 laid the groundwork for the next time Sowery would receive a phone call from an American team – BN Racing.

Bryn Nuttall’s BN Racing began its own Road to Indy journey mid-season in 2018, with rookie David Malukas taking a USF2000 pole and a podium at the Chicago-based team’s home track, Road America. Graduating into the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires last year, Malukas and BN sat in sixth position in the title chase heading back to Road America; but with team regular Kris Wright unable to make the race weekend, Nuttall offered the ride to Sowery, who made the most of the opportunity. The young Brit immediately fit in with the team and with the even younger Malukas, and the pair finished 1-2 in both races, with Malukas taking his first series victories.

“It was great to get back out in a single seater, especially with no pressure to perform and no real expectations. If you’d told me ahead of time that I’d have two podiums, I’d have been quite happy, but I have to say I was disappointed in the end because it was my teammate who beat me both times. You always want to beat your teammate! But it was a positive weekend and it was great to be able to show people what I can do, especially since it was my only single seater weekend of the year.”

Sowery watched from England as BN Racing prepared to take Malukas to the final step on the Road to Indy. So he was not prepared when Nuttall called once again – albeit at the last possible moment ahead of Road to Indy Spring Training at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and the season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. Dale Pelfrey wanted to put his yellow Gap Guard Dallara back on track at St. Pete, and Nuttall felt he had the perfect driver to step in at such a late hour. And Sowery wasted no time getting up to speed, learning the car at Homestead and going on to score podiums in both races at St. Pete to extend his Road to Indy streak to four of four podium finishes.

“The series test at Homestead was Monday, and we got the call on Friday evening. I was meant to be working at a karting track that weekend and had to cancel but luckily the team was very understanding! It was great to be able to shake down the car at Homestead – but I remember asking Bryn over the radio for my time and I was a second off, so I was a bit worried heading to St. Pete, which was my first street circuit. But I got up to speed quickly, P2 in qualifying for the first race. That was completely unexpected. I’m confident in my abilities in the race, but a rolling start on a street circuit was something I had very limited experience with. I’m disappointed not to have gotten a win, especially in the second race, but maybe that’s a British way of looking at things, to focus on what could have happened rather than what did, but for the team to have such a good start to their Indy Lights season, with David finishing fourth in both races, was great.”

On paper, the pairing of the young American Malukas, age 17, and Sowery might not seem a natural one, but the duo got on immediately last year and that camaraderie continued into 2019. Their competitive natures mesh well with their innate understanding that contact with your teammate is not an option.

“We have very similar mindsets, and he’s a much more mature driver than his age would seem to indicate. I think that’s why we’ve done so well so far this season: there’s great chemistry in the team. What David lacks, I can help him with, and where I lack, David and our engineer can help. It was a big enough wake up call for me to jump in this car at St. Pete, having not driven something with this much power for a few years. It was an even bigger step for David, given his age and his experience. He’s done a very good job to get up to speed quickly.”

That said, Sowery began the season with a plan to do St. Pete and that was it. His success there opened the door for the following race weekend at Circuit of The Americas and while that didn’t go as Sowery would have hoped for himself (competitive near the front for both races but settling for two sixth-place finishes) the weekend saw Malukas score his first series podium in a sterling drive from the back of the field. Sowery is set for the month of May that includes the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the series’ marquee event, the Freedom 100 Presented by Cooper Tires, but after that?

“We’re working hard with Dale and BN Racing to make sure we are here all season. My people in the UK are helping as much as they can as well. It’s in everyone’s interest – Dale wants his car out there and things are working well for David to have a teammate. I’m hoping things work out!”

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