Whether managing airflow over the Mustang Mach-E 1400, blowing gusts at the base of Mt. Everest, even the winds of sudden career change, Ford engineer Sriram Pakkam takes it all in stride.
After a decade applying his insights and expertise in high performance to IndyCar, NASCAR, World Rally racing, and Australia Supercar series, Pakkam spent six years as aerodynamics lead for Ford Racing. Now, over the last year, he has transitioned to a new role, working on future all-electric F-Series models as strategy and business development manager for Ford. He admits the learning curve can be steep at times, but other things remain the same from his motorsports days. Just like a race team, the F-150 Lightning team moves fast, adapts seamlessly and competes like a challenger.
“Making the career change from performance vehicles to electric pickup trucks, there’s naturally a lot to learn and the Lightning team has been a great place to grow,” said Pakkam. “The team’s mentality and approach are the same as a race team. We work under high pressure and at high speed. There is no set template or established process to follow. Our team comes up with solutions in real time and can pivot on a moment’s notice. It’s a great environment to work in.”
As an aerodynamics lead, Pakkam has worked on some of the most capable, highest performance vehicles in the Ford lineup. He led design and development of the first-ever Ford Aussie Mustang Supercar, which raced to a record 21 victories in 2019 in the Australia Supercars touring car series to earn Ford both driver’s and manufacturer’s championships, a feat it repeated in 2020. His last project was designing the aerodynamic capabilities of the all-electric Mustang Mach-E 1400 with its ridiculous 1,400 peak horsepower and more than 2,300 pounds of downforce.
A great point of pride for Pakkam was watching Ford President and CEO Jim Farley drive both vehicles up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed earlier this year. “Seeing the CEO of your company drive vehicles you personally helped create on a legendary automotive world stage like Goodwood is just incredible,” he said. “It’s a lot of pride because you can see the impact. You can see what media and fans are saying about how cool those vehicles are and you know you had a part in it.”
Pakkam’s love for performance vehicles started when he was just a boy in India. He dreamed of one day going to England to become a legend in Formula One. His dreams of racing glory would have to wait, however, as a full scholarship for undergraduate studies, and subsequently a master’s program, at North Carolina State University was calling. He went on to later earn an MBA from the University of Michigan.
Pakkam did end up making a return to motorsports, starting a career in IndyCar that led him to NASCAR and, ultimately, Ford Performance Racing. He started off working on the Ford GT supercar bound for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It’s not just the thrill of the track that excites Pakkam. The Royal Oak resident enjoys traveling the world with his wife, from across the United States to Thailand and beyond. Always up for a challenge, the couple spent 14 days on their honeymoon hiking to the basecamp of Mt. Everest. It’s a feat that sums up Pakkam’s whole approach to life.
“Challenging yourself is the only way to grow,” he said.
As for his latest endeavor, Pakkam and team are working on solutions to help Ford win the future in a rapidly changing auto industry. They are working on leveraging the connectivity and technology of future all-electric Ford F-Series models to create new streams of revenue that ultimately will help lower the total cost burden on customers looking to transition into an electric vehicle.
“Ford Motor Company has always stood for making mobility accessible to the masses, and not just the wealthy,” said Pakkam. “That’s where Ford and our team is working to take the electric revolution – to the garages of hardworking everyday Americans.”