Sabine Schmitz, the only female race driver to win the 24 hours at the Nürburgring, has passed away at the age of 51.
In 1996 Sabine Schmitz became a legend. In a BMW M3, the German won the prestigious endurance race at the Nürburgring, a well-known racing circuit in Germany. When she did it again a year later, her nickname was a fact: the queen of the Nürburgring.
Schmitz knew every inch of the course. Growing up nearby, at her parents’ hotel in Nürburg, she spent hours exploring the trail in her mother’s car. Later she became a driver of the Ring taxi, in which passengers can join the circuit as a co-driver for a substantial sum. She always said she had at least 20,000 laps on the clock.
Before she entered the automotive world, Schmitz worked for a while at the hotel in Nürburg, where she was trained as a sommelier. After her successes on the road, Schmitz made a name for herself with her own team Frikadelli Racing, which she founded with husband Klaus Abbelen.
In 2004 she became known internationally through the BBC program ‘Top Gear’. Presenter Jeremy Clarkson was then very proud of his racing performance: he had driven the Nürburgring track in 09:59 minutes in a Jaguar S-Type. For Schmitz, that was ‘the time she needed with a van’. She herself drove a lap time of 9:12 with the Jaguar.
A season later, the van really arrived, in the exciting and infectious ‘Sabine Schmitz’s Van Challenge’ in which she tried to drive a Ford Transit around in less than ten minutes. Finally she clocked – slightly frustrated – at a time of 10: 08.49 minutes, far ahead of a few men in fast sports cars and motorcycles.
Sabine Schmitz on the legendary Nürburgring track.
Schmitz became co-presenter of ‘Top Gear’ in 2016. Barely a year later she was diagnosed with a very rare cancer, of which she died on Wednesday. Co-host Clarkson expressed his condolences via Twitter, calling her death “terrible news.”
The rest of the automotive world is also mourning. “We’ve lost our most famous female racer,” tweeted the Nürburgring account.