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Sowery’s IndyCar debut was years In the making

It’s OK if most IndyCar fans don’t know who Toby Sowery happens to be or why, at the age of 29, he’s making his debut in the series this weekend at Mid-Ohio.

And there’s no guarantee the open-wheeler from Cambridgeshire, England, will get a second chance to race in the NTT IndyCar Series after he’s done with Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 51 Honda on Sunday. But if you’re a fan of underdogs, or just have an affinity for scrappy people who refuse to give up on their dreams, Sowery is someone who might be worth following.

He took his first turn from Europe to the American racing ladder — known then as the Road to Indy — in 2017 with a couple of impressive outings in USF2000, returned for a few more in 2018 in the series we call USF Pro 2000 today and scored a double podium, and made the full-time commitment to reaching IndyCar in 2019 when he joined the precursor to HMD Motorsports.

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Sowery took seven podiums from 18 races and finished third in the Indy NXT championship behind champion Oliver Askew and runner-up Rinus VeeKay in a team that was exceptional, but wasn’t on the same level of Andretti Global (Askew) or Juncos Hollinger Racing (VeeKay).

The story went in a familiar direction afterwards as a lack of funding took the Briton out of the series in 2020, and while he put together a partial season of NXT in 2021, and did three races in 2023 which produced a podium,

While working on IndyCar opportunities, Sowery has shown well in other realms like IMSA LMP2 with Crowdstrike. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Sowery’s hopes of getting to IndyCar ground to a halt. Even so, he raised enough funding to do his first IndyCar test with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and hoped to get the nod for the No. 30 Honda seat that eventually went to Pietro Fittipaldi, and from there, he picked up paying rides in global LMP2 and GT racing as a pro positioned alongside pro-am drivers.

And thanks to the tough season for Coyne and the steady rotation of drivers through the No. 51 entry, the chance for Sowery to break into IndyCar with grateful support of some backers has given him one shot, at least, of realizing his dream.

“A lot of the motivation is if you quit, you’re never going to get there,” Sowery told RACER. “We’ve been working towards IndyCar for a very long time. And looking back, I think COVID actually put more of a dent in my career than I perhaps gave credit for; it really blocked our momentum. We lost the momentum coming off 2019 and it’s been very up and down for me, doing some part of [NXT] seasons, and then obviously the test with Rahal. It’s been a difficult couple of years in terms of direction and progression and momentum in my career, but after the start of this season, it’s been very, very different for me.”

Hired to race in sports cars, Sowery has re-established his name — albeit mostly outside of the U.S. — which only helped in negotiations with DCR.

“Working with the Crowdstrike group (in LMP2) and in the Fanatec (GT World Challenge Europe) series has given me a platform to have stability and race again, and allowed me to re-introduce myself, which is obviously led to an opportunity with Dale,” he said.

“Resilience is probably a good word for this. You know, we’re not quitters in my family, we never have been. I’ve got a great team surrounding me and there’s a lot of good people that we’ve got on board to help give me this opportunity.”

And so, Sowery will strap into the No. 51 Honda with no testing, no experience with the new hybrid powertrain, no pre-existing working relationship with his race engineer or crew, and no reason to believe he’ll be competitive in a car that has consistently qualified and finished towards the back of the 27-car field.

The best Sowery can hope for is to show well against his veteran teammate and countryman Jack Harvey and do his best to make team owners — including Coyne — recognize his talent. It’s a heady task, but Sowery isn’t afraid to face it.

“It’s about really, really enjoying the weekend and putting a performance in as well, because it’s something we’ve been working to for a long time,” he said. “IndyCar is a fantastic series. It’s arguably the most competitive in the world. So it’s going to be no small challenge for me. But again, at the same time, everything I’ve ever jumped in and raced in, I’ve had to make an impression because as a family, as an individual, we don’t have the money just to not worry about that and know that we’ve got other routes.

“Every time I jump in the car, I have to fight for my career and put a good enough impression out that people actually give me the opportunities further down the line.”

Story originally appeared on Racer