Sabine Schmitz, racing driver and TV host, has died of cancer in Germany at the age of 51. Known as the “Queen of the Nürburgring,” Schmitz grew up next to the legendary racetrack. Her parents ran the bar at the Hotel am Tiergarten, and she was headed for a career in hospitality before becoming a racing driver.
She first drove the 12.9-mile (20.8 km) track at the age of 15 in the family car and quickly got the bug, learning the track’s lines better than most. In 1996, she became the first woman to win the 24-hour Nürburgring race (with teammate Johannes Scheid). In 1997, the two repeated that feat, and in 1998 she won the VLN endurance championship (a race series held at the Nürburgring).
Beyond her exploits in racing, Schmitz made a name for herself as one of the “ring taxi” drivers, taking paying customers for rides around the track in high-powered BMWs, an activity that helped her rack up more than 30,000 laps of “the green hell.”
But she reached a much wider audience when she appeared on Top Gear in 2004. In an unforgettable segment, she was challenged to complete a 10-minute lap (technically, a “bridge-to-gantry time, not a complete lap) of the ‘Ring… in a Ford Transit van:
It was the first of many Top Gear appearances, and she joined the cast when the show was revamped in 2016. She also hosted her own German-language TV show, DMotor.
What truly horrid news to wake up to; she will be missed.