Sabine Schmitz, Queen of the N\u00fcrburgring and \u2018Top Gear\u2019 Host, Dead at 51

Sabine Schmitz, the Queen of the Nürburgring, who won many races at that scary and storied track, has died after a long battle with cancer. She was 51.

Schmitz literally grew up at the ‘Ring, where her mother owned a hotel in the town of Nürburg. As a young girl, she got to meet many famous drivers who stayed there and decided early on her life’s ambition would be to race cars at the famous track.

“I grew up at my mom’s hotel in the middle of that little village Nürburg,” she said in a BMW video. “There were not many hotels at that time around the track. And all the former Grand Prix drivers, like Ascari, they were all in our hotel. And later, Nelson Piquet. So very famous people came. So I had all the time interest in motor racing. And when I was 13 years old I decided I want to be a racing driver.”

It was a little while before she drove on the track though, another four years after her decision.

“When I was 17 I did my first lap in my mom’s BMW. And she didn’t know that for sure. And the guy at the track, we had just one person there, you had the ticket, you show him the ticket and then you could go. He said, ‘Oh Sabine, you are already 18? You’ve got your driving license?’ I said, ‘Oh yes! Bye bye,’ Vroom!”

Her need for speed started even before that.

“When I was young I was always fast, on roller skates, with the bicycle, you know. It didn’t matter what. At least it had to be fast. I had the fastest horse around. I never played with Barbie or with the girls. I always liked to play football. And I was always interested in machines.”

Over the years she became intimately familiar with the track, all its hidden curves, decreasing radii, and swoopy drop-offs.

“You know for me it’s like the way to school every morning. I never had to learn the track. It’s in my blood.”

Her first race win came in the Rundstrecken Challenge Nürburgring, or BMW Driving Experience Challenge. She went on to win the 24 Hours of Nürburgring in 1996 and ‘97 in an M3, part of a long association with BMW at the track that resulted in 45 wins in BMWs alone. She also raced Porsches. She started a company, Sabine Schmitz Motorsport, to provide driver training and to give rides in her famous M5 ‘Ring Taxi. Over her career she drove an estimated 20,000 laps around the track.

Her driving skill, sunny smile, and pleasant disposition led to a role hosting Top Gear. When host Jeremy Clarkson proudly showed Schmitz his own lap time of 9:59 in a Jaguar, Schmitz famously said, “I tell you something, I do that lap time in a van.” And she did, going so fast the film crew couldn’t keep up.

“She knows the track better than anyone else alive today,” Clarkson said on the show’s tribute to her.

But it was her friendly face and focus on the fun of driving that endeared her to fans—and fares—around the world.

We will cherish memories of our rides around the ‘Ring with the amazing Sabine Schmitz. If you have your own, please share them with us below. Our condolences to her family and friends.

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