Published on June 3rd, 2017 | by Subhash Nair0
Jazeman Jaafar Tells Us How He Went From a Kart to a McLaren
It’s often said that the Malaysian greats are all gone. Time and again, we hear the older generation talking of stars like Datuk Nicol David as if she’s the last of a dying breed. The reality is that there are many Malaysians out there who push themselves everyday to be the best at what they do.
One of these people is 25-year old Jazeman Jaafar.
If that name’s familiar, it’s because he’s been featured on this site on multiple occasions ever since he got into the Petronas Talent Development Programme back in 2013. Four years on, he’s now a part of McLaren’s GT Driver Academy.
He may only be in his mid-20s, but his record has been impressive to say the least.
Each and every one of these races were uphill battles.
His efforts are now focused on the Blancpain Endurance Series. We sat down with him for a chat to learn a little more about his story.
“I liked cars as a child and had a little collection of scale models. Then one day, my neighbor came invited my family to follow him to a go kart track,” says Jazeman.
“I immediately fell in love with it. There were kids around my age who were driving – racing even. I was really into it and I wanted to stay there the whole day.”
Jazeman’s dad asked if he’d like to try it out. The following weekend he found himself in a little ‘Puffo Kart’. “These have got small 40cc engines. They’re made to teach children the basics.”
It started off as a weekend hobby. Some kids had badminton. Some had football. For Jazeman, it was karting. He went from 40 to 60cc karts, before he started competing nationally with 85cc and larger karts. After tasting a few sweet victories, he knew what he wanted to do when he grew up.
“When I told my mom that I eventually wanted to be an F1 driver, she thought I was joking. Eventually, she saw the measures that had put in place to make the sport a lot safer than it used to be and warmed to the idea.”
Family support has been extremely important in his career. To this day, they continue to manage a lot of the financial and legal aspects to pro racing.
Jazeman climbed out of the kart and into more challenging Formula car racing scene. But being just 13, he was a little too young to qualify. After pleading his case to then-FIA president Max Mosley, he got his papers in order.
Race after race, he climbed up the rungs before finally getting a call from Petronas. He had been shortlisted for their Talent Development Programme. Their affiliation with Mercedes-AMG opened a lot of opportunities for him, but the dropping oil prices led to major cut backs.
While in discussion for a bigger role in Formula 1, Petronas scuttled their programme and Jazeman’s career progress came to temporary halt. That didn’t stop his hustle. He continued to work with Mercedes-AMG to further develop the AMG GT3 and even finished 5th in 2014’s Spa 24 Hours race with HTP Motorsport.
But despite the success, teams were downsized and his contract was not renewed for a second term. After a period in limbo, he received a call from McLaren for a shootout.
“It was a very last minute thing,” he explains. “25 drivers were invited, but there were only 3 slots available. I did my run on the very last day, but I gave it my best and they signed me up.”
Jazeman has grown to love and respect endurance racing, calling it the future of motorsports. Why?
“I think they’re doing all the right things. The LMP category, for instance, doesn’t restrict competitors to certain technologies. So you could end up with a turbo-diesel hybrid like the one from Audi dominating one year, and then a Porsche system taking it the next.”
Endurance racing is even more of a challenge for Jazeman, but the guy is absolutely dedicated to his career.
“My passion still runs the same. I loved it on day one, and I still do.”
More importantly, he wants other Malaysians to know that there’s nothing standing in their way. “I want people to see that all it takes is hard work. This isn’t something you can buy your way into. Your results are what get you in, nothing else.”
But he acknowledges that racing is an expensive sport, which can make it difficult for young ones to get into.
“It’s not as simple as buying a racquet or a ball and practicing. But to those looking to get into it, what I can say is this: when you’re given a chance, make the most out of it. Take whatever opportunities you’re given and drive your best, even if it’s not as big or as important as you think. You never know who is watching.”
Jazeman’s career has been colourful so far, but he’s only just getting started. We’ll continue to track his progress and we wish him the very best as he continues to make the country proud.