Sabine Schmitz, race manager and TV personality, dies at 51

For Sabine Schmitz, it was like going to school to the deepened Nürburgring racetrack in West Germany. Growing up near the track, one of the most famous in the world, she has always loved speed and completed her own account of more than 20,000 laps of the track.

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

Schmitz, a popular German racer and former presenter of the BBC show “Top Gear”, known for her striking comments and a lively personality that stood out in an industry dominated by men, was in a hospital in Trier, in southwestern Germany, died. . She was 51. Her half-brother, Beat Schmitz, said the cause was cancer.

Schmitz, a cheerful and enthusiastic driver, has been called the ‘Queen of the Nürburgring’ and the ‘fastest taxi driver in the world’ – because he drove exciting racing enthusiasts around the track in a BMW. She won the popular 24-hour race at the Nürburgring in 1996, becoming the first woman to do so – and then again the following year. She became known to an even wider audience when she joined ‘Top Gear’ in 2016 after several appearances in the program.

She and her husband, Klaus Abbelen, founded the racing team Frikadelli Racing.

Sabine Schmitz was born on May 14, 1969, in Adenau, West Germany. The daughter of a wholesaler and a hotel manager in the town of Nurburg, near the border with Belgium, grew up less than a kilometer from the Nürburgring complex, and although she trained as a hotelier, she has since wanted to become a racer. she was 13, she said.

The legendary main track of the Nürburgring, the 12.9 mile long North loop, known as Green Hell for its 73 turns as it weaves through the forest in the Eifel hills. The track has been running since 1927 and hosted the Formula 1 races, but was later considered too dangerous and redesigned.

The new Nordschleife, adapted when Schmitz was 2, has become her playground. She was able to recite the names of the 73 turns from her head, and she only completed them at the age of 17 – with her mother’s car before she had a driving license.

“They put on race tires, took off the license plates and raced on the track,” Beat Schmitz said of Sabine and the family. “My mother would drive to the hairdresser with the same car or do groceries.”

He added: “It’s just like the kid who was born next to the football stadium and is in a football team at 5.”

After participating in amateur racing with her two sisters, Schmitz joined a BMW team in the early 1990s. She is still the only female rider to win the Nürburgring’s 24-hour race, which draws more than 200 review teams and tens of thousands of fans every June. She finished third in the 2008 edition. The event is part of the VLN endurance series, in which Schmitz was a regular competitor.

She became one of the main attractions in the racing complex as a driver of a BMW ‘ring taxi’, in which she took paying customers on a quick lap around the track. She boasted of being ‘the fastest taxi driver in the world’.

“It’s really fun to scare people,” she said on Top Gear in 2010. “They like to be scared, so they pay me for it.”

Schmitz’s time during ‘Top Gear’ brought a non-British onslaught to a show mostly run by men and aimed at them. She preferred escapades in which she would try to drive past other drivers while driving a less powerful car as theirs.

One of her most popular moments on the program took place in 2009 when she tried to complete a lap on the Nürburgring circuit in less than ten minutes – with A Ford van. She did it in 10:08 minutes.

“I think she really liked how she could shock middle-aged men who thought they could drive a little – until they saw what she could do,” said Chris Harris, another Top Gear presenter. said.

Schmitz left ‘Top Gear’ last year and announced she’s been treated for cancer since 2017.

In addition to driving cars and later flying helicopters, she was passionate about animals, and her half-brother, Beat, said he believes her love of animals kept her going through her cancer battle.

In addition to her half-brother, she is survived by her husband, her mother and two sisters.

Many in the racing world paid tribute to Schmitz on Wednesday. Sophia Floersch, a 20-year-old German driver who became the first woman to take part in Formula 3 last year, calls Schmitz’s races inspiring and motivating.

On Twitter, Nürburgring said he had lost his most famous female racer, adding: “Sabine Schmitz died far too long after a long illness.”

Christopher Schuetze reported.

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