Deaf Sports Stars4th February 2014

Deaf Karting Champion Bas Lammers Entering New Era in Racing

Bas Lammers is 2 time KZ1 World Karting Champion. Deaf, he has signed a new deal that he hopes will take him back to the top of the podium.

by Simon Deacy OBE

For most of us, a trip to a karting circuit is a bit of fun to celebrate someone’s birthday or have a bit of competitive fun with our friends or work colleagues. It’s fast, furious and a good laugh with people spinning off the track left, right and centre as they try to drive the karts the same as they do their cars.

​Motorsport enthusiasts and followers of Formula 1 have heard a lot about the serious side of karting in recent years because of the likes of Lewis Hamilton, whose rise to fame through a successful karting career has been well documented. On the international circuit, before the KZ1 class was introduced, KF1 used to be the top level of karting and was open to drivers aged 15 and over. It is in this category that Lewis and other famous racing stars learned their trade and became household names. But did you know that three years after Hamilton won the highly competitive European Championships in 2000, a deaf Dutchman, Bas Lammers, became champion driving a Vortex powered Swiss Hutless kart.

Winning these championships is quite a feat for anyone, to do so when you are deaf and cannot hear the karts around you is just remarkable – but this is quite a remarkable man!

Sebastiaan Willem Lammers (Bas for short) was born in Roosendaal and Nispen in Holland in December 1985. Now 28 years old, Bas is one of the best known ‘names’ in world karting today, only recently signing a contract with the Formula K works team, one of the biggest and most ambitious teams in karting today.

Bas is now a full time kart racer and when asked what makes him happy he said, “Everyday when I wake up, I have a big smile because I'm doing what I really like to do and I have everything that my heart desires.” Lucky devil! Born two years after his sister, Bas’ father owned his own polyester company allowing his mother to be a full-time housewife.

As early as Bas can remember, he wanted to have a successful career in motor sport, and whilst he retains further ambitions, he is well on his well to achieving his earliest dreams. Identified as Deaf very young, with only 10% hearing in one ear and 20% percent in the other, Bas’ parents had begun learning sign language when, aged two and a half, he was provided with hearing aids that gave him a decent level of hearing.

Bas went to Kindergarten until old enough to attend a school for children with ear, nose and speaking problems. Whilst some of the deaf students learned sign language, Bas learned orally at school but learned some sign language with his fellow travellers during the daily 100kms taxi journey back and fore the school.

Whilst he enjoyed school, Bas preferred to work with his hands and went to study for a diploma at the Metaltechnic School.

Introduced to karting aged six and a half, Bas instantly loved it and he began going often with a friend of the family. With Michael Schumacher and Alex Zanardi being his racing heroes, initially Bas admits that he was not the best, but a challenge from his father's friend changed all that. Driving in motorcross boots, his father's friend told him that if he could get under 40 seconds for one lap at the Strijen Circuit, he would win some proper karting shoes. Arriving at 8am one Saturday morning Bas did lap after lap during free practice and timed laps, finally completing a lap in 39.95 seconds at 6.45pm, 15 minutes before the track was due to close. That was the start of his karting career.

With hugely supportive parents, Bas was able to race karts with their financial support behind him. Towards the end of his schooling and still intent on pursuing a career in motor sport, a deal was struck with Bas that if he achieved his diploma, they would support him moving to Switzerland to join the Swiss Hutless manufacturing and racing team, where he could turn his hobby into his work. “I remember my parents dropping me off in Switzerland”, Bas explained. “I couldn’t speak the language but I had their support and best wishes. As I couldn’t speak the language, all I ate for the first three months was schnitzel and French fries! I stayed there with a fantastic caring family for 5 years, and they are responsible for who I am today.”

Driving for a good team and quickly learning his trade, Bas rose through the karting ranks, resulting in him winning the KF1 European Championship in 2003 for the Swiss team. That was the springboard for further success and to Bas being in demand by the biggest race teams in karting.

Poignantly, Bas tells me that the first of his greatest achievements came in 2010. His dad was very poorly and Bas had been entered for the KZ1 World Cup race. On the run up to the race Bas went to his father’s bedside and asked him if he wanted him to race. His dad could not speak, but Bas remembers him pinching his hand, indicating that he had to take part.

Two weeks before the race, his father sadly passed away, so racing two weeks later was emotional and difficult. Following a battle in the early stages of the race, Bas was able to get in front, and he went on to claim the World Champion crown driving for the Intrepid race team. Bas went on to repeat this achievement in a race that went to the wire two years later, this time racing for Praga.

Bas does not use his deafness as an excuse for anything. He has good speech and with his hearing aids in, he can hear, but he races without them, returning him to a position where he cannot hear the karts around him. For some, this inability to hear on the track may actually be an advantage as Bas concentrates on what he is able to achieve, feeling the challenges of the karts around him. Importantly, despite being a really nice guy off the track, Bas is a true and determined fighter when in race mode, and it is this attitude of professionalisms that gains him so much respect within the sport.

Whilst he does not use his deafness as an excuse, Bas still faces some of the challenges experienced by many deaf people in the western world. “My pet hate is the lack of subtitles on some TV programmes. I hate it when we are watching television and we are trying to follow the program like a Dutch soap or the news and they don't have subtitles.”

A lover of fitness, swimming, cycling, and fishing, Bas has high hopes for the coming season with his new Formula K works team. His busy schedule will see him compete in the World Chamionship (1 race); European Championship (3 races); German Championship (5 races); WSK Super series (4 races); Lonato, Wintercup (1 race); Supernationals, Las Vegas (1 race); Thomas Knopper memorial (1 race); and, Cash for Dash in Australia (1 race); demonstrating just how global this sport is and just how big a star Bas has become.

Starting out with a new team, Bas knows that he will need to work hard to achieve the success he still craves. “Learning a new chassis takes time, but this is a great team with big ambitions, so it’s an exciting time,” he told me. “I still hope to become a successful professional car racer.”

Whilst Bas is the man out on the track putting the laws of physics to the test, he is keen to recognise that everything he achieves in the sport is the result of the team around him.

“I really would like to thank Cash van Belle (team manager), Luka Jrkovic (mechanic), Formula K (kart manufacturer), IAME Parilla (kart engine manufacturer), TecSav (engine tuner), Bell Racing Helmets (helmet), Unipro Data Systems (data logger), Polmai Fire Fightiing & Safety Equipment and Lucky Design (helmet painter), fans, family and friends for their fantastic support. Without them I would not be able to achieve the results I have had over the years and that I aim to have in the future.”

If he does not get offered an opportunity to race cars in the future, Bas hopes to be able to run his own karting team where he can give other youngsters the opportunity he feels so privileged to have had.

Reflecting on his deafness, Bas explains that it’s not all bad. “If it’s a stormy night or if there are loads of noises outside, they don’t disturb me at all and I love getting up the following morning with everyone complaining about being woken up by the noise.” With a wry grin he also tells me that sometimes he finds himself with friends when his hearing aids start to beep. When he is asked what is happening he often replies, “I’m just being contacted by people on Mars!”

Surviving and prospering in a hearing environment, Bas is never far from thinking about deaf people and Deaf and Hard of Hearing children in particular. “Every deaf boy and girl has a dream. If you have that dream, follow it, and always give your best. That will help you get to where you want to be. But remember, being happy is the most important thing.”

Bas has achieved a great deal and is now one of the world’s greatest karting champions. Central to his success is a simple motto, “Don’t dream about your life, live your dreams!” We couldn’t agree more.

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Article by Simon Deacy OBE

posted in Deaf Sport / Deaf Sports Stars

4th February 2014