Erik Berkman had a steep learning curve when he took the reins this year at Honda Performance Development. Berkman replaced longtime HPD president Robert Clarke in January, 2008.
Berkman came to HPD after a stellar engineering career at Honda of America Manufacturing and Honda R&D. But many people aren't aware that Berkman has worked with racing previously.
In fact, he actually had the opportunity to drive the Williams Honda Formula One car back in 1985 at the Marysville, Ohio HAM plant.
"We wanted to bring a Honda Formula One car to the plant, as well as Nelson Piquet, the Williams driver," said Berkman, a Purdue University graduate. "So, I flew to Montreal and waited in the team's hotel lobby until I was able to meet Frank Williams and some of the team members. Next thing I knew, I had a FOCA [Formula One pit] pass and I was in the garage area at the Canadian Grand Prix. We were able to bring the car, driver and some of the team to the Honda plants. And I even got the chance to drive the race car. That was a thrill."
Now, over two decades later, Berkman is charge of the Honda IndyCar Series program, as well as the Acura American Le Mans Series effort.
"I didn't just walk into this new position," explains Berkman. "I was put into it at a full sprint. I am learning something new every day. I hope I can apply some of my background with product planning and development to the HPD organization. I hope we can marry some of the current programs with some new projects.
"Maybe we can enter some uncharted water with new projects like we did with the Acura ALMS program," he said. "The Acura program is been a big boost for the company. We have expanded HPD in several areas, and outsourced the things we are not familiar with at this point. But we plan to learn more about the things we outsource and develop those things within HPD. And we might like to do the same things with other racing applications down the road. Our company name is 'Honda Performance Development.' Our business is racing and that is what we do. But, maybe we move into the performance side in the future."
Needless to say, Berkman's plate is pretty full at this point as he oversees Honda's IndyCar Series involvement, as well as working with four Acura ALMS organizations and keeping an eye on other racing activities.
"It is very interesting to work in meetings with other companies and sanctioning bodies," said Berkman. "There is so much planning that goes on behind the scenes, and it is a unique experience to discuss racing applications with other groups."
Berkman likes the current formula in the American Le Mans Series, which features leading-edge automotive technology.
"We enjoy working with technology, and the ALMS gives us the opportunity to create more and more technicallyadvanced parts for our racing cars," Berkman said. "The Acura brand is an upscale brand, and we want to show that the Acura prototype sports car have the most sophisticated technology in North American racing. I think we are showing that right now."
Berkman believes that the Acura teams will add to the successes they have enjoyed already in 2008.
"We wanted to be right in the thick of the point championship and we wanted to win races and poles," he said. "We have one team that is second in points and we have three race victories and three poles. I think we'll have a good shot at winning some more events, too. That is our goal this year. Then we'll establish more goals for the 2009 season."