Even if you are interested in racing, you probably still know the name Sabine Schmitz. Schmitz grew up next to the famous Nürburgring track and was no stranger to racing the circuit. You might not know that she completed a lap around Nürburgring in a Ford Transit van with a pretty competitive time.
Sabine Schmitz was known as the “Queen of the Nürburgring”
Reading The New York Times article about Sabine Schmitz after she died barely cracks the surface. Racing the Nürburgring track was a regular thing for her, and she frequently popped up on BBC’s Top Gear show. In 1996, Schmitz became the first woman to win the Nürburgring 24-hour race. She won it again the following year. Schmitz and her husband Klaus Abbelen even founded the Frikadelli Racing team together.
Once she was a regular on Top Gear, Schmitz loved to challenge drivers on the track. In particular, she liked to race and beat people in a slower car. One of the most famous incidents occurred when Schmitz decided to do a lap on the Nürburgring circuit in under 10 minutes. But that wasn’t much of a challenge. Schmitz decided to do the course in a Ford transit van in under 10 minutes.
“The Ford Transit is one of the great motoring icons,” the special feature opens with. It is true, but the transit van isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think about doing a lap on the Nürburgring, but who cares. The 40-year-old van prototype is the perfect vessel for this adventure.
Richard Hammond and Sabine Schmitz take a Ford transit van lap
Ford specifically made the Transit van easy to carry things in. The automaker gave the van car engines, car suspension, car steering, and a top speed of 90 mph. Top Gear says that 95% of robberies involved a Ford Transit van, which is definitely not an accurate statistic but sounds reasonable enough.
Jeremy Clarkson did the Nürburgring circuit in a diesel Jaguar S-Type in 9:59 seconds. Sabine Schmitz bet that she could do it in 10:00 in the van upon hearing that. To celebrate the life of the Ford Transit van, Top Gear took her up on that offer.
Schmitz likened the Ford Transit van to a school bus and said the center of gravity was relatively high, but she wanted to see what it could do. Richard Hammond hopped in the front seat and ran the clock for her. Braking with her left foot and keeping her right foot on the gas, she was able to keep up the pace all the way through.
The van completed the Nürburgring circuit in 10:08
“I think she loved how much she could shock middle-aged men who thought they could drive a bit — until they saw what she could do,” Top Gear host Chris Harris said. Schmitz was passing smaller cars and bikes while she raced around the circuit. At one point, she even asked the van to go faster. Hammond disagreed with that sentiment.
Coming up on the last part of the track, the Ford Transit van was swaying all over the place. Completing the circuit in 10:23 at first wasn’t good enough. The Top Gear team did some weight removal, dumped Hammond from the front seat, and sent a Dodge Viper up ahead to create a slipstream. She completed the Nürburgring run in the Ford Transit van in 10:08.
Sabine Schmitz died from cancer at the age of 51, but her legacy on the track lives on. No one else dared take a Ford Transit van around the track, something only she had the guts to do!