Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Erik Berkman Takes over at HPD
Erik Berkman is in his first full season as president of Honda Performance Development, but he could easily be celebrating a decade in the racing business.
"Ten years ago Tom Elliott talked to me about the job [general manager] Robert Clarke eventually accepted, but I had four kids to help raise and it didn't seem like the best time to be traveling all over the world," recalled Berkman.
"The second time around it made more sense and it was the right time. I'm just glad I got the chance."
Much like Clarke, who remains at HPD as an advisor through June, Berkman had no racing background, per se. He joined Honda in 1982 after buying a Honda lawn mower, followed by a Civic.
"You had to pay a little more for the Civic but you also got more for your money and I decided right then I wanted to work for that company," said the native of New Albany, Ind. who graduated from Purdue University with a degree in mechanical engineering.
"I started out in various plants as engineering manager and working on quality control before I moved into the R&D department in 1991. I was a project leader on various cars like the Accord and Acura, and spent a lot of time in L.A. as well as Japan.
"But people here always knew I was interested in racing."
His timing, as they say, is impeccable, as the open-wheel war finally ended in February and Berkman's first Indianapolis 500 will be unified with all Honda engines.
"Not a bad year to start," he mused. "I know Robert worked hard to try and make this happen, so it's great for everyone involved." He sees HPD continuing to evolve as a major player in North American motorsports.
"HPD started out to maintain and service engines and now we're designing and developing them. We've also added cars. We are fledgling, but we're learning rapidly and we're growing and I want to maintain that growth.
"I'm not ready to go public yet on how to define the new era for HPD under my terms, but I've got some ideas." Clarke expects good things from his successor.
"Erik has a lot of experience handling large projects and I think that will really benefit HPD. I think he'll take us to the next level."
For now, the expanded Acura program in ALMS and the revitalized IndyCar series are keeping Berkman busy.
"I guess I'm a little naïve, because I'm surprised how political this stuff can be and how much lobbying goes on. It's very interesting," he observed.
"But we have a unique opportunity to help define where Indy Car racing goes, and it's an exciting opportunity. I can't do it by myself, but I'm happy to be doing this. It's an engineer's dream."