Toby Sowery returned to the INDY NXT by Firestone series this weekend as the Detroit Grand Prix went back to the streets with an all-new circuit layout for 2023. This proved to be a challenging race, as he encountered various obstacles throughout the weekend. Despite not achieving the results he wanted, Sowery’s performance in the No14 HMD Motorsport car was a testament to his resilience in the face of adversity on the narrow and incredibly bumpy downtown streets.
Friday’s action began with high hopes for Sowery as he showed promise in the weekend’s only practice session. He quickly got up to speed with the 1.7 mile, 9-turn track, topping the timing board and by the halfway point, holding the second fastest time. Finishing the session in 6th, he said;
“The circuit is a lot of fun. It’s a quick, reactionary track, and it’s incredibly bumpy. It’s always hard being the first out on a new track like this, we’re the guinea pigs, but the car setup feels good and I’m looking forward to qualifying.”
An all-new circuit led to an all-new qualifying format, with the usual single session of 8 minutes becoming two 8-minute qualifying sessions to determine grid position for each race.
The 26-year-old from Cambridgeshire, UK, started Q1 well, sitting just above the eventual pole sitter, Foster, on the timing screen. In the final 3 minutes of Q1, he suffered a broken toe link, ending his qualifying session with 3 minutes to run. This meant Toby qualified at the back of the grid for race one.
In the closing seconds of Q2 Toby set a solid time placing him P6 on the grid. Sadly a local yellow flag resulted in a post-qualifying penalty and pushed him back to P13 on the grid for race two. Despite the setback, Sowery maintained a positive mindset, determined to make the best of the situation for Saturday’s race.
“I felt good after practice but brushed the wall at turn 7. The track is short, and the very close walls are causing multiple incidents and drivers taking escape routes causing yellow flags. We’ve seen some serious damage in both the IndyNXT and Indycar sessions, so I am pleased I managed to come out of it with just a broken toe link. Sadly this meant the car setup wasn’t quite right, so Q2 was a struggle. I’m frustrated by the penalty, but what can you do? That’s street racing! Focus now is on tomorrow’s race.”
Race one on the tricky Streets of Detroit got off to a messy start resulting in a yellow flag. Starting P19 Toby Sowery managed to make his way up to P8. Toby kept consistent pressure on the cars in front until lap 29 when he slipped through the pack and retired into the pit lane with a boost box failure.
“Looking at the results of today’s race, we could have been fighting for a podium, even from last! I kept it clean, made some good passes and felt great. Unfortunately, I started to lose power, leading to an early retirement.
It’s a good sign for tomorrow but we have another uphill battle due to being limited in Q2 and having the fastest time deleted. The team and I will reset and go again.”
Sunday’s race two got off to a clean start which saw Sowery move from P13 to P8 behind a slower Abel. On Lap 22 Toby went for a wide pass at turn 3, he was unable to make the car turn and lost his position rejoining at the back of the pack and finishing the race in P13.
“I am disappointed for the team today. We could have got great results in race one, but we had that taken away by a component failure beyond our control. I made a mistake pushing for a pass in race two. I knew I had the pace for a stronger finish and was held up by the car in front.
It’s a frustrating weekend, but I must remember that I am not working towards a championship. My program is set around my 2024 goals, and while it’s never nice to have weekends like this, there is so much to learn from them.
Now my focus is on the Indycar test with Rahal Letterman and Lanigan Racing this Thursday.”
Toby will test in the Graham Rahal car 15 at Sebring Raceway on Thursday, the 8th of June, 2023.