Welcome back, Toby Sowery.
The Briton reprised his role as a driver in INDY NXT by Firestone, returning after an absence of 617 days and scoring a third-place result Sunday, April 30 at Barber Motorsports Park. It marked his first drive in the series since finishing eighth at World Wide Technology Raceway on Aug. 21, 2021.
Sowery was called in a substitute role to drive the No. 14 HMD Motorsports entry normally occupied by Josh Pierson, who was competing in Belgium in the FIA World Endurance Championship. The 17-year-old Pierson, co-driving the United Autosports entry with Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis, claimed second in the LMP2 class - eighth overall - in the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
On the other side of the world in Birmingham, Alabama, Sowery, who started fifth, made the most of the opportunity with a mistake-free race at the 2.3-mile, 17-turn natural terrain road course. Sowery capped a podium sweep for HMD Motorsports, with Christian Rasmussen and Nolan Siegel finishing ahead in first and second, respectively.
“Luckily, there was an extra practice this weekend, so for me it was nice to have that extra session to get up to speed,” said Sowery, 26. “But again, it was an uphill battle the whole weekend, and my personal goal was a podium. Thankfully, even if I did it the hard way, I managed to get it. So, I'm super happy. It's good to be back.”
According to Mike Maurini, general manager at HMD Motorsports, Sowery is expected to continue as a substitute role on conflicting weekends for Pierson, which would be next month on the Streets of Detroit and the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, both doubleheader events for INDYCAR’s development series.
There is a special connection between HMD Motorsports and Sowery. During the 2019 INDY NXT season, Sowery was part of BN Racing, which ran a partnership with Team Pelfrey. At the back end of the campaign, with roughly five rounds remaining, BN Racing was phased out, and HMD Motorsports took ownership. Sowery managed to deliver the team’s first victory in the series in the second race at Portland International Raceway.
Sowery has been impressed to see how far team owner Henry Malukas has grown HMD Motorsports from a small two-car squad to now having eight cars on the grid at Barber Motorsports Park.
“Honestly, it's not even comparative,” Sowery said. “In 2019, when I was with the team when it started to transition into HMD, there was one engineer for two cars and then two guys on each car. So, minus the drivers, there were probably six guys on the team.
“Now, we've got more drivers than that, so you can't really compare, but it's now an organization rather than a team. The guys, it's hard with that many cars, but they all do a great job. It kind of speaks for itself that we probably had a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 in the race until the last lap (after Danial Frost and Josh Green made contact), and there's three of us sitting here (on podium) right now.
“So, the team do a fantastic job, and it's good to see the progress that they've made because we were there at the early doors. Knowing Henry and how he envisioned this team to where it is now is everything he said. I'm super happy for him, and, obviously, we've got a few guys to beat at the races that I do, but at least we know we've got a good car pretty much everywhere we go.”