Top Gear star Sabine Schmitz has been remembered as “powerful and irrepressible” and “a proper driving legend” after her death at the age of 51.
The German driver, known as the Queen of the Nurburgring, revealed last year that she had been battling cancer since 2017.
She appeared on Top Gear alongside Jeremy Clarkson and became part of the presenting team when Chris Evans revamped the show in 2015.
Clarkson paid tribute, saying Schmitz was “such a sunny person and so full of beans”.
His co-star Richard Hammond wrote on Twitter: “Very sad to hear of the passing of Sabine Schmitz, a proper driving legend who’ll be sadly missed by many.
“The Ring has lost its Queen. RIP”
Schmitz was the only female winner of the 24 Hours Of Nurburgring, the famous German racing track.
James May said: “I never thought car makers should be at the ‘Ring, but I always thought Sabine Schmitz should, and would, be. Rotten news.”
Chris Harris, who joined the presenting line-up with Evans and is part of the current line-up with Paddy McGuinness and Freddie Flintoff, wrote on the Top Gear website: “The motoring world lost one of its true legends last night, when the powerful and irrepressible Sabine Schmitz passed away, aged just 51.
“Already a key figure at the Nurburgring after becoming the first, and still the only woman to win the gruelling 24-hour race, she shot to international fame by uttering the immortal phrase: ‘I do that lap time in a van.’
“She beat Jeremy’s time in a road car, while lobbing a Ford Transit about the Eiffel mountains in her normal style. She’s been a part of Top Gear ever since, and the thought that she won’t be any more makes me feel very, very sad.”
Former presenter Rory Reid said: “Dear Sabine. I shed a tear when I heard. But I smiled when I remembered the good times. Thanks for always making me smile.”
McGuinness shared a picture of himself and Schmitz in a car on Instagram, writing alongside it: “I spent a glorious couple of days in a Ferrari with Sabine and she hunted me down in a banger race.
“What a woman, what a legacy, what a life. Very sad news. RIP the great Sabine Schmitz”.
Clare Pizey, Top Gear’s executive producer, said in a statement on behalf of the Top Gear team: “Sabine 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.
“The Queen of the Nurburgring, Sabine 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.”
A tweet from the official Nurburgring account said: “The Nurburgring 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!”
Drive Tribe, the online platform started by Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, tweeted: “We are saddened by the loss of Sabine Schmitz. Beyond almost beating Clarkson in a Ford Transit and a number of other Top Gear appearances, Sabine was a talented racer, winning the infamous Nurburgring 24h on multiple occasions. The Queen of the Nordschleife…”
Schmitz announced via social media last year that she was absent from the Nurburgring Endurance Series due to her ongoing battle with cancer.
In the post, she said: “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.”
Many well-known faces have taken to social media to celebrate Schmitz’s life, including racing driver Tiff Needell, as well as former Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy.