His Highness Prince Jefri Ibrahim of Johor. It’s a name not many Australians will know, but for Malaysians, the 28-year-old is literal royalty.
At his home, the son of the Sultan of Johor can barely leave his home without being swarmed by adoring locals.
On the Gold Coast, he roams free with passers-by none the wiser to who he is.
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Ibrahim – who will race as part of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Powered by AWS field at Sandown for the penultimate SpeedSeries event of 2022 on September 16-18 – has a fascinating history.
A royal from birth, the quietly spoken Prince lives a double life Down Under and has a dream to one day be a racing champion.
Of the countries on the Asian continent, Malaysia is hardly the first to mind when it comes to car culture, let alone Johor.
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A Malaysian state neighbouring Singapore, Johor does have some motor racing history having hosted the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix in 1998 and its own Johor Grand Prix from 1949 to 1953.
Racing is, for all intents and purposes, in the blood. Ibrahim’s late grandfather, the Sultan Iskandar of Johor, raced a Mercedes-Benz 540K Special at the circuit.
However, he wanted his grandson to have very little to do with motorsport.
“He lost a lot of friends through racing,” Ibrahim explained, speaking with Wide World of Sports.
“Of course, I didn’t think he would like having that fear of losing anyone more through motorsport because of the friends that he lost.
“The family sport has always been polo. That was always something the family has been playing.
“I did play for a few years but motorsport was always in the back of my mind of what I really wanted to do.”
Motorsport was always on Ibrahim’s radar. He’d taken a particular liking to Supercars and in 2016 visited Australia to see the Bathurst 1000.
The Holden VF Commodore that Triple Eight Race Engineering and many of the teams ran took his interest and he decided he needed to have one of his own.
Plans were hatched to have a pair of replicas built for the road. Soon enough, he was introduced to then-Triple Eight Race Engineering team principal Roland Dane, beginning what would become a fruitful relationship.
Coincidentally, Dane already had a link to Ibrahim’s family having met his grandfather via a mutual acquaintance in the 1980s.
Bitten by the Supercars bug, Ibrahim bought Jamie Whincup’s last championship-winning Supercar at the end of 2017.
Part of the deal saw the car cut laps at Ibrahim’s home track, the Johor Circuit, where Shane van Gisbergen got to have a go as well.
That was despite Ibrahim having had no previous racing experience whatsoever, not even karting.
“I was quite nervous, to be honest,” said Ibrahim.
“I had never driven any crazy, high power race car, especially a Supercar – 600hp, no traction control, no ABS, that was daunting.
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“I was nervous, but then the time wasn’t that bad compared to Shane. That’s when the idea came to come race.”
Soon enough, a plan was hatched to have Ibrahim race a Mercedes-AMG GT3 in GT World Challenge Asia.
In many ways, he had come full circle.
“Interestingly, my grandfather raced Mercedes-Benz 540K Special. We decided to go racing with Mercedes, not just because of that but because it’s a better car,” said Ibrahim.
“It was a coincidence that my grandfather raced a Mercedes, so that’s how long the history has gone back.”
While his family initially had reservations about going racing, safety had improved drastically since the days of his grandfather’s time in the sport.
It is a bit of a balancing act, however. Occasionally, Ibrahim returns home to conduct military duties as well as philanthropic activities in the community.
“Thankfully, my father has been very supportive,” he said.
“He knows how serious I am with the racing. This is what I really want to do, so he’s been very supportive throughout the year.
“I can put racing as the priority now and whatever duties I have back home, whenever I have the time, I’ll do it. So far, racing is my main game and I’ll try and focus just on this first.”
Ibrahim is quick to admit he loves life in Australia where he can switch off and live a relatively normal life, something he hasn’t known growing up.
“It’s been great, to be honest,” he said.
“I’ve been enjoying every single part of it having the freedom and not having people know you everywhere you go.”
While royal life can at times be overwhelming, Ibrahim is conscious of his duty to the state and its people.
One day, he wants to revitalise the Johor Circuit and start a racing academy to foster a new generation of racers.
“Me and my brother are planning to revamp it,” he explained.
“Johor Circuit has a lot of history having MotoGP there. It was the first motorcycle grand prix in Malaysia and the last guy that won MotoGP there was Mick Doohan.
“Right now, in Malaysia, the only race track in Sepang. I think the only way for motorsport to grow is to have more tracks. You can see in Australia, you have a lot of tracks. That’s how motorsport will grow.
“It will be nice to revamp it and to a safer standard too and hopefully that will help bring more international races but also grassroots too.
“Overall, I see that it will help the motorsport scene having more tracks and more opportunities for people to go racing.”
Ibrahim will race at Melbourne’s iconic Sandown as part of the SpeedSeries program in Fanatec GT World Challenge Australia alongside Shane van Gisbergen.
The Supercheap Auto TCR Australia Series will headline proceedings supported by Turtle Wax Trans Am, Australian Production Cars, and Porsche Michelin Sprint Challenge Australia.
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