Sabine Schmitz, the pioneering female racer who served as a presenter on Top Gear and was the only female winner of the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, has died. Schmitz passed away at the age of 51 after having revealed just last year that she was diagnosed with cancer in 2017. Frikadelli Racing confirmed her death, the team she formed with her husband, Klaus Abbelen, which said in a statement Schmitz passed away Tuesday. Her death was later confirmed by Nurburgring, the German race track releasing a statement Wednesday morning paying tribute to her as "its most famous female racing driver."
According to The Guardian, Schmitz, widely known as "Queen of the Nürburgring," first won the 24 Hours of Nürburgring in 1996 with Johannes Scheid and Hans Widmann in the BMW M3. She went on to win again just a year later with Scheid, Hans-Jürgen Tiemann, and Peter Zakowski. She later went on to become the first woman to win the VLN Endurance Championship title in Germany in 1998, Autosport reports, and found further success with her own team Frikadelli Racing, which she had founded with her husband, Klaus Abbelen.
The Nürburgring has lost its most famous female racing driver.
Sabine Schmitz passed away far too early after a long illness. We will miss her and her cheerful nature. Rest in peace Sabine! pic.twitter.com/MFKNNFOSDU— Nürburgring (@nuerburgring) March 17, 2021
Schmitz was also known for her integral role on the BBC racing series Top Gear. She first joined Jeremy Clarkson on the BBC show in 2004 and became part of the presenting team when Chris Evans revamped the program in 2016. News of her passing has prompted numerous tributes from the racing world, including those Top Gear personalities that knew her. Clarkson, calling news of her death "terrible," remembered Schmitz as "such a sunny person and so full of beans." Current presenter Paddy McGuinness added that Schmitz gave him "pointers on how to drive a Ferrari very fast and hunted me down in a banger race." He remembered her as "brilliantly bonkers and an amazing human being!"
Clare Pizey, Top Gear's executive producer, wrote in a lengthy statement that Schmitz "was a beloved member of the Top Gear family and presenting team since 2016, having first appeared on the show in 2004, and everyone who had the pleasure of working with her on the team is in shock at this news," according to Variety. Pizey added that the famed racer "radiated positivity, always wore her cheeky smile no matter how hard things got — and was a force of nature for women drivers in the motoring world."
"Like everyone else who knew her, we will truly miss her — Sabine really was one of a kind. Our thoughts are with her partner Klaus, who was always by her side and who we welcomed to Dunsfold many times, and her family in Germany," Pizey concluded. In the wake of her passing, Sunday's all-new Top Gear episode will be dedicated to Schmitz.