Toby Sowery

The last six weeks have been a whirlwind for Toby Sowery.

A challenger for the championship in INDY NXT by Firestone in 2019, the Briton became an afterthought after being out of the series for nearly two years. Then, in April, he received the chance to fill in for Josh Pierson, who had a clashing sports car commitment in the World Endurance Championship.

Sowery showed no signs of rust, reminding everyone of his talent by finishing third in the No. 14 HMD Motorsports entry on April 30 at Barber Motorsports Park, 617 days since his last start in INDY NXT by Firestone on Aug. 21, 2021.

That outing was followed by the announcement – on May 11 – that he would test an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car courtesy of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) on June 8 at Sebring International Raceway.

Suddenly, the 26-year-old is very relevant again.

“It's kind of zero to 100 percent,” Sowery said. “I haven't raced in however long (in INDY NXT by Firestone), that was it since mid-August of 2021. To have it all so compact, it's different for me. Going straight from race to a test that we don't normally do, it's exciting. I can't wait to get going. I'm loving the opportunity. I've got to thank RLL for giving me that. Driving the car, I can't complain, can I?”

The road to this point has been long and full of unknowns for a driver who once appeared on the cusp of being in a seat in North America’s premier open-wheel championship. In 2019, he went head-to-head-to-head with eventual INDY NXT by Firestone champion Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay, ending up third in the title race as a rookie with one win, seven podium finishes and an average finish of 4.4 through 18 races – and all while the team he was driving for BN Racing, was phased out to become HMD Motorsports.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic that canceled the 2020 INDY NXT by Firestone season. In 2021, he was only able to piece together a partial campaign with Juncos Racing, scoring three podiums and seven top-fives while running 14 of 20 races.

Although he was forced to sit on the sidelines without a drive in 2022, it allowed him an opportunity to handle things in a different way.

“Honestly, working behind the scenes,” Sowery said. “Racing drivers, a lot of the time, it's in front of the crowd at the race events and at the gym. That's the normal regime. But for like when you don't have programs going, it gives you all this time to work on finding sponsorship, networking, speaking with the teams. It’s, in a way, a benefit. It takes all the drama of racing off the plate and allows you to focus on actually building your program.”

Now Sowery readies for a new challenge that has taken a lifetime to earn – his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES test. Both the car and the track will be new for him, though preparation in the buildup included some time in the simulator to get better acclimated.

Alex Farina, performance engineer for RLL, will be on the timing stand to help lessen the steep learning curve.

“There’s a lot more open-mindedness of this test than like a strict regime for a race event,” Sowery said. “In those terms, it's good. But a lot of fitness, physical and mental preparation for it. These opportunities don't come around a lot of time, so making the most of it.”

While a combination of nerves and hopefulness are on the table with an opportunity like this, Sowery knows exactly what things he’s wanting to showcase to the team.

“Having never been in the car, being up to speed very quickly is a good goal,” Sowery said. “Reliable feedback and then being able to trust me. If they say, ‘We're going to give you a load of front wing and take it out,’ and I come back and go, ‘Well, that understeers. That doesn't make sense.’ They know that my feedback is reliable. So, it's allowing them to do their job without having to go, ‘Oh, we need to give him time in the car.’

“Obviously, the more time for me the better, but I’ve got to get up to speed quick, give good feedback, have some pace and be able to physically hold onto it, as well. If I'm struggling to drive by lunch time, then it's not a good mark against my name. So, there's a lot of critiques for myself, but the team is very good and open to allowing me to get up to speed.”