German racing legend Sabine Schmitz, the Queen of the Nürburgring, dies at 51

Klaus Abbelen and Sabine Schmitz
Sabine Schmitz with husband Klaus Abbelen Porsche

German racing driver Sabine Schmitz, affectionately known as the “Queen of the Nürburgring,” died Tuesday, March 16 after a four-year battle with cancer. She was 51.

In 1996, Schmitz became the first and only woman to win the Nürburgring 24 Hours and later added a second victory there. Two years later, she also became the first woman to win the VLN Endurance Championship title. She won nearly 50 career races on the famous German circuit.

“The Nürburgring has lost its most famous female racing driver,” track officials said in a statement. “… We will miss her and her cheerful nature.”

Already famous for her Nürburgring wins, Schmitz’s international popularity grew through a reoccurring role on BBC’s Top Gear television show. Schmitz first appeared as a guest in 2004, and her Nürburgring Van Challenge—to complete the 12.94-mile circuit in less than 10 minutes behind the wheel of a Ford Transit van—is legendary. She missed the mark by only eight seconds.

Schmitz, also known as “Queen of the Nordschleife (North Loop),” revealed last year that she had been battling cancer since 2017.

“Many of you have probably wondered why I was on the list of participants on our Porsche in the NSL and then didn’t drive after all,” she wrote in a social media post. “I would like to provide enlightenment here. I think I owe it to my/our fans! Since the end of 2017, I have been fighting an extremely persistent cancer that has not been eliminated with the resources so far. It got a little better—but now it’s come back with full force. Now I have to draw all the strength and nerve to master the next powerful therapies … hoping something [good] will happen … So, sweethearts, now you have an update. Please stay healthy and cheerful, see you at the ’Ring.”

Schmitz, who was born on May 14, 1969, grew up in Nürburg and naturally became interested in racing after meeting many F1 drivers who stayed in her family’s hotel. Her first lap of the Nürburgring was in her mother’s BMW at age 17, a feat she kept secret since she wasn’t yet a licensed driver.

“I never had to learn the track,” she once said. “It’s in my blood.”

Schmitz, who was also a helicopter pilot, estimated that she had completed more than 20,000 laps at the Nürburgring, one of the most challenging tracks in the world. Known for its combination of high-speed straights and tight corners, the circuit is often referred to as the Green Hell. In addition to competing at the Nürburgring, she also drove a BMW M5 “Ring Taxi” for many years, taking fans for white-knuckle rides on the famous track.

Since news of Schmitz’s passing was confirmed by Frikadelli Racing, the team that Schmitz founded with husband Klaus Abbelen, accolades and condolences have poured in from around the automotive community.

From Porsche Motorsport: “Very sad to hear that Sabine Schmitz has passed away … [She] was a crowd favorite due to her open, humorous way. The two-time @24hNBR winner was an icon at the wheel of the Frikadelli Porsche. Our sympathy goes to her family and friends.”

From Sophia Floersch, Formula 3 driver: “Very sad news for motorsport. Sabine is the queen at Nürburgring. She always will be unreachable in the ‘Green Hell.’ Seeing her races was inspirational and motivating. My deepest condolences to the family. RIP Sabine.”

From Jeremy Clarkson, former Top Gear cohost: “Terrible news about Sabine Schmitz. Such a sunny person and so full of beans.”

From Paddy McGuinness, current Top Gear presenter: “Brilliantly bonkers and an amazing human being!”

From Formula 1: “Pioneer, champion, Queen of the Nürburgring. Sabine Schmitz was a unique, much-loved and cherished member of our sport’s family, and a force of nature for inspiring a new generation of motorsport enthusiasts.”

Sabine on hood Adenauer Racing Day 2017
Sabine Schmitz (sitting on the hood) at Adenauer Racing Day 2017. Porsche
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