Pioneering racing driver Sabine Schmitz passed away at the age of 51. She was affectionately known as the “Königin der Nordschleife” or the “Queen of Nürburgring”. She was the only woman to win the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, one of the most grueling and most demanding endurance racing events.
Sabine Schmitz was born on 14th May 1969 in Adenau. She grew up within the boundaries of the Nürburgring, and it didn’t take long before she took her mother’s car onto the track during Touristenfahrten or “Green Hell Tourist Driving”.
Both her parents were local restaurant owners, and she was originally meant to take over her family’s business, she studied at the hotel school. According to her, she and her two sisters grew up in the basement of Pistenklause restaurant in Nürburg within the Nürburgring Nordschleife. She trained as a Hotelfachfrau and graduated in hotel management, catering, and as a wine specialist.
In the meantime, along with her two sisters, she soon started racing at professional-level events on the Nordschleife. Sabine Schmitz was the only one of the three sisters to decide to pursue a carrier in motorsport.
She soon became a household name around the Nürburg after becoming a professional driver in 1993.
Sabine Schmitz’s earlier VNL victories.
She won the 24 Hours of Nürburgring twice consecutively in 1996 and 1997. She won both races in the wheels of a Group N BMW E36 M3 sports car, the first race alongside Johannes Scheid, and the second race alongside Johannes Scheid, Peter Zakowski, and Hans-Jurgen Tiemann. With her win in 1996, she became the first woman to win the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring. Her BMW E36 M3 was affectionately known as the Eifel Blitz or Eiffel Thunderbolt.
The following year, she became the first woman to become champion in the 24-hour VLN (Association of NürburgringEndurance Cup Organisers) endurance racing series at the Nordschleife.
Back then, she raced under her married name of Sabine Reck. Sabine Schmitz was previously married to a German hotelier and was known as Sabine Reck during the marriage. During her marriage, she used to live in Pulheim, and she divorced her husband in 2000. She then set up her own bar-restaurant called the Fuchsröhre (Foxhole) in Nürburg and owned it until 2003 before she focused on becoming a full-time professional driver. She was also a qualified helicopter pilot.
Sabine Schmitz featured on the Top Gear
She often acted as a Nürburgring based professional driving instructor and rose to fame after her appearance on British Motoring Show, The Top Gear back in 2004, where she drove a Jaguar S Type diesel around the track at record speed. Furthermore, she coached Jeremy Clarkson on driving the Jaguar around the track in less than 10 minutes.
She drove the diesel Jaguar S Type around the Nürburgring in 9 minutes and 12 seconds at her first try, defeating Jeremy Clarkson by 47 seconds. Comparing the lap times achieved by Jeremy Clarkson, she jokingly said that she could do that lap-time in a van.
She famously attempted to break the 10-minute barrier around the Nürburgring in a Ford Transit van but failed by eight seconds. She held this record until September 2018.
She was also known for Frikadelli Racing, a racing team set up by her and her future husband, Klaus Abbelen in 2005.
Klaus Abbelen is also a veteran racing driver, who started his endurance racing carrier in 1999 and eventually winning the Euro GT Series championship in 2000. Before racing, he was known as a master butcher, thus earning the “Frikadelli” nickname.
In 2006, Klaus Abbelen and Sabine Schmitz drove a Porsche 997 in the VLN endurance racing series at the Nürburgring. In 2007, they got married and their friends described them as inseparable and truly madly in love.
Meantime, she has established herself as a German television personality and in 2006 she became the co-host of D Motor, a German automotive program, in which she took on different motoring challenges in each episode.
In 2008, she completed the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring in a factory-backed Manthey Porsche 911 GT3 R and finished third. She competed again in the same event and finished sixth in 2012.
According to her own estimates, she had lapped the Nordschleife track at least 20,000 times. Nordschleife is commonly known as the Green Hell for is treacherous curves dramatic elevation changes. She is one of the two drivers that used to drive around the “Ring Taxi” BMW M5, allowing racing enthusiasts to enjoy an exuberant tour of the track, until 2011. Due to this, she was also known as the fastest taxi driver in the world.
In May 2015, Sabine Schmitz made history at the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) in Germany, becoming the first female driver to score a point in the modern FIA World Touring Car Championship. She made her debut in a Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 for Munich Motorsport, finished in 10th place, and scored one point in the first two races on the 25.37 km Nordschleife circuit.
After the historic accomplishment, she said: “There are not many sports where men and women compete together, other than motorsport, and horse-riding. You need someone to look at who does it. I think I wasn’t too bad driving against all the professionals, the world champions, and the Formula One drivers.”
Sabine Schmitz returned to the WTCC of Germany again in 2016 and matched her previous results.
Michele Mouton, former rally championship driver, and the last woman to compete in top-level rallying, the President of the FA Women in Motorsport Commission, said that Sabine Schmitz’s achievement in scoring points, in the WTCC demonstrated extraordinary talent.
Sabine Schmitz also acted as an ambassador for FIA Women in Motorsport and inspired generations of women to take part in the armature and professional racing events.
After the Holy Trinity left the BBC after Jeremy Clarkson’s infamous feud with a producer, Sabine Schmitz was chosen as a presenter beside Chris Evans. In 2016, she became a full-time Top Gear presenter, the first female host in fifteen years, making regular guest appearances afterward, and stayed with the show until 2020.
She competed for the last time in the VLN endurance racing events in 2016
In 2017, Sabine Schmitz was diagnosed with cancer, and she kept it a secret from the media and only a handful of people knew about her sickness. Her sickness also forced her to pull out of an endurance racing event at the last minute.
On 18th May 2018, she drove a Škoda Kodiaq vRS around the Nürburgring in 9 minutes and 29.84 seconds, setting a new record for the fastest production seven-seater SUV.
In July 2020, Sabine Schmitz disclosed her battle with an extremely persistent cancer on her Facebook page.
“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, 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, I say goodbye ‘probably’ for the first time this season.”
“In addition, I would like to thank everyone for their help and support in my everyday life, and encouragement in writing!”
“So sweethearts, now you have an update. Please stay healthy and cheerful, see you at the ‘Ring.”
The Queen of Nürburgring passed away at the age of 51 after more than three years of battle with cancer on March 16, 2021.
Her friends at the Top Gear, Frikadelli Racing, and German factory race teams soon shared their memories and condolences
Frikadelli Racing has been participating in the annual 24 Hours of Nürburgring endurance racing event ever since its inception in 2005. They are going to fend two Porsche 911 GT3 racers at the 2021 VLN event.
Sabine Schmitz is a legend among legends and her spirit will live on with generations of men and women who were influenced by her to take part in motorsport events.