Sabine Schmitz, the only female race car driver to win the annual 24-hour race on Germany’s Nürburgring track and a renowned TV personality, died Tuesday. She was 51.
Schmitz, a popular German racing driver and former presenter of the BBC show “Top Gear,” died at a hospital in Trier, in southwestern Germany, The New York Times reported. Her half-brother, Beat Schmitz, said the cause was cancer.
Schmitz had been ill with cancer since 2017 and continued racing until 2019, according to The Associated Press.
Schmitz grew up near the Nürburgring, a track that winds through the hills of western Germany. Its 13-mile Nordschleife configuration is regarded as one of the most demanding and dangerous tracks in the world, the AP reported.
Schmitz was called “Queen of the Nürburgring,” the Times reported. She was also called the “fastest taxi driver in the world” for driving thrill-seeking racing fans around the track in a BMW. She won the popular Nürburgring 24-hour race in 1996 and 1997 and finished third in 2008. She became known to an even broader audience when she joined “Top Gear” in 2016, the newspaper reported.
She and her husband, Klaus Abbelen, founded the racing team Frikadelli Racing.
Schmitz was born on May 14, 1969, in Adenau, West Germany. She grew up less than a mile from the Nürburgring complex and had aspired to become a racing driver since she was 13.
After competing in amateur races with her two sisters, Schmitz joined a BMW team in the early 1990s, the Times reported.
She became one of the main attractions at the racing complex as a driver of a BMW “ring taxi,” when she took paying customers on a high-speed lap around the track, the newspaper reported.
One of Schmitz’s most memorable moments on “Top Gear” came in 2009, when she tried to complete a lap on the Nürburgring circuit in less than 10 minutes while driving a Ford van, the Times reported. She finished in 10 minutes, 8 seconds.