NURBURG, Germany — Sabine Schmitz, the only female driver to win the 24 Hours of Nurburgring endurance race and a regular guest on the British television program “Top Gear,” died Tuesday following a three-year battle with cancer.
Schmitz was 51. Her cancer diagnosis was first revealed in 2017 and she continued racing until 2019.
The longtime sports car racing competitor grew up in Western Germany, in the shadow of the famed circuit she came to master over the course of her driving career.
According to her own estimates, Schmitz turned more than 20,000 laps around the famed circuit — which boasts a 12.944-mile, 154-turn configuration known as the Nordschleife — in her lifetime.
This knowledge and depth of track time led to Schmitz being given the nickname “Queen of the Nurburgring,” a title further solidified by back-to-back victories in the twice-around-the-clock event at the Nurburgring in 1996 and ’97.
Both times, she won as a co-driver for Scheid Motorsport in a BMW M3 E36.
Schmitz raced under the name Sabine Reck until 2000, when she changed her name after divorcing her first husband.
Serving as a factory driver for both BMW and Porsche during her racing career, Schmitz returned to the podium at the 24 Hours of Nurburgring in 2008, when she co-drove with Klaus Abbelen, her second husband; Edgar Viersen; and Kenneth Heyer to a third-place overall finish in the headlining SP7 class.
Schmitz founded Sabine Schmitz Motorsport at the Nurburgring to offer advanced driver training and a “ring taxi” service for passengers, which she drove herself until stepping away from that role in 2011.
Schmitz first appeared on “Top Gear” in 2004 with then-host Jeremy Clarkson, and later was selected as one of the show’s regular cast members when it underwent a restructuring in 2016.
Numerous motorsports dignitaries released statements remembering Schmitz on Wednesday.
“Klaus Abbelen and all relatives and friends are deeply saddened by the immeasurable loss of Sabine,” read a statement from Frikadelli Racing, the race team Schmitz founded alongside Abbelen.
“The Nurburgring has lost its most famous female racing driver,” officials from the famed circuit said in a prepared statement. “Sabine Schmitz passed away far too early after a long illness. We will miss her and her cheerful nature.”
“(It’s) very sad to hear that Sabine Schmitz has passed away,” noted a statement from Porsche Motorsport. “The Queen of Nordschleife was a crowd favorite due to her open, humorous way, and our sympathy goes out to her family and friends.”