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RIP Sabine Schmitz

RIP Sabine Schmitz

So sad to hear the news that the adorable Sabine Schmitz, Queen of the Nürburgring, has passed away from cancer aged just 51. A two-time winner of the Nürburgring 24 Hours and a former VLN champion, Sabine may be best remembered as the woman who beat Jeremy Clarkson in a van.

Sabine was born to hotelier parents in Adenau, in the shadow of the Nürburgring. The youngest of three girls, Sabine was raised in the Hotel am Tiergarten in the village of Nürburg, which is now home to the legendary Pistenklause restaurant. All three girls used to borrow their mother’s car to do laps of the ‘Ring and all three apparently tried racing, but it was Sabine who took it most seriously, eventually partnering with veteran BMW M3 driver, Johannes Scheid, to win the Nürburgring 24-Hours in both 1996 and 1997 and win the VLN championship in 1998 – a joint win with Johannes. She remains the only female driver ever to win the N24.

Racing could not pay the bills, so Sabine trained as a somellière and hotel manager, and married a fellow hotelier, with whom she ran a business in Pulheim: north-west of Cologne and 100 kms north of Nürburg. The marriage ended in 2000 and the newly-single Sabine returned to Nürburg, opening a bar called the Fuchsröhre (Foxhole) after one of her favourite parts of the circuit.

She also returned to the track, racing regularly and finding infamy as one of the drivers of the BMW M5 ‘Ring Taxis’. Sabine’s background made her a natural people person. Gifted with irresistible bartender humour, she had ample speed to match her wit, so it was only a matter of time before the motoring media would pick up on her talents. Recognition came in 2004, when BBC Top Gear visited the Nürburgring to test some new twin-turbo diesel Jaguar. Jeremy Clarkson was given the target time of a ten-minute lap, and Sabine was recruited to train him.

When Clarkson eventually managed a 9:59, and shot over the moon with delight, Sabine slapped him back down to earth with a derisory: “I could do that time in a van.” It was a memorable moment. The following year, Top Gear brought a bog-standard Transit (0 to 60 in 21 seconds) to the Nürburgring to give Sabine the chance to make good on her promise. She got within 9 seconds of Clarkson before admitting defeat, but the TV show exposed her to a vast audience. She became a regular fixture on Top Gear, which has been shown in 214 countries to an estimated weekly audience of some 350 million people at its peak.

Sabine did not stay in the pub trade too long on her second time around. She left the Foxhole in 2003 and formed Frikkadelli Racing with her partner, Klaus Abbelen (main image). The duo raced everywhere, running GT3s across Europe and in the Middle East, finishing third in the 2008 N24, beaten only by the two factory-backed Manthey Porsches that had won two previous N24s between them. Away from the circuit, Sabine also indulged her passion for horses, opening a stables in Barweiler – the Eifelranch am Ring.

In 2017, Sabine was diagnosed with a rare form of vulvar cancer. She experienced an adverse reaction to chemotherapy, which cut her options for treatment. Surgery was the only alternative and she had many operations in the years that followed. She did return to racing and promised to run in the 2020 N24, “as long as she was not on an operating table”. “I’m like an Eifel weed,” she told one interviewer, vowing to keep popping up.

Sabine Schmitz died from cancer on 16 March 2021, aged 51. That is no age for anyone to die, let alone someone like Sabine, who enchanted millions of people all over the world with her down-to-earth energy, passion and talent. She will be deeply missed by those who regard the Nordschleife as more than just asphalt. I look forward to raising a glass to Frau Schmitz at the Pistenklause and to celebrating her memory at the N24, some time in the future.

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Ferdinand Magazine is the personal blog of John Glynn, a writer, classic car and motorcycle valuations expert and court expert witness. To explore and enjoy more of my work, and to support the Ferdinand Porsche blog, you can:

Covid hits Nürburgring Porsche 24-Hour Squad

Covid hits Nürburgring Porsche 24-Hour Squad

Maximum flexibility is required to get the most out of life during Covid and Porsche has demonstrated impressive flexibility in a last-minute rejig of the squad for the 2020 Nürburgring 24-Hour on September 26th and 27th.

Following post-event coronavirus tests of Porsche’s Le Mans 24-Hour team, three team members tested positive for the virus. Weissach therefore decided that no team member from Le Mans should attend the Nurburgring 24-Hour, including the nine works drivers who took part.

The driver reorganisation has been further complicated by the fact that, since 2015, drivers have required the Ring Permit in order to participate in certain races on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, including the VLN Championship and the 24-Hour event.

The Ring Permit – or DMSB Permit Nordschleife to give it its proper name – is an additional licence to the regular national and international race licence. All N24 drivers must have a Category A permit, which requires taking part in at least two VLN Championship races, clocking up at least 18 laps and finishing in the top 75% of one’s class in both: no mean feat in this competitive series.

Filling a team for the prestigious 24 Hours of Nordschleife when the entire Le Mans 24 squad has been told to stay home can’t have been easy, and the Manthey Racing team has been most affected. The famous ‘der Grello’ green and yellow 911 will not race at the Nordschleife this year, so sadly no repeat of Kévin Estre’s epic pass on the grass from last year’s N24.

Speaking of grass, the revised driver lineup includes several veterans returned from the lush green slopes of brand ambassador pasture. Back come Timo Bernhard and Jörg Bergmeister alongside Earl Bamber, who has been ruled out of IMSA this weekend. Bernhard is running his first N24 in seven years. German youngster, Nico Menzel, arrives to support Sven Müller, Dennis Olsen and Klaus Bachler.

Approximately 30% of the 100 vehicles entered in the delayed 2020 Nürburgring 24 Hours will be Porsches. The officially-supported Porsche teams are:

KCMG (Porsche 911 GT3 R #18)
Earl Bamber, Jörg Bergmeister, Timo Bernhard, Dennis Olsen

KCMG (Porsche 911 GT3 R #19)
Josh Burdon (Australia), Edoardo Liberati (Italy), Alexandre Imperatori (Switzerland), Dennis Olsen

Huber Motorsport (Porsche 911 GT3 R #25)
Nico Menzel, Marco Holzer, Patrick Kolb (all Germany), Lorenzo Rocco di Torrepadula (Italy)

Frikadelli Racing Team (Porsche 911 GT3 R #30)
Klaus Abbelen, Alexander Müller, Robert Renauer (all Germany), Norbert Siedler (Austria)

Frikadelli Racing Team (Porsche 911 GT3 R #31)
Lance David Arnold, Lars Kern (both Germany), Mathieu Jaminet (France), Maxime Martin (Belgium)

Falken Motorsport (Porsche 911 GT3 R #33)
Christian Engelhart, Sven Müller, Dirk Werner (all Germany), Klaus Bachler (Austria)

Falken Motorsport (Porsche 911 GT3 R #44)
Klaus Bachler, Martin Ragginger (both Austria), Peter Dumbreck (Great Britain), Sven Müller

“The health and safety of our team members is our top priority,” said Fritz Enzinger, Vice President Porsche Motorsport. “That’s why the tough decision not to be represented at the Nürburgring by the drivers and employees who attended Le Mans was ultimately a no-brainer. Still, I’m glad that we found a quick solution with our customer teams and that we can compete on the legendary Nordschleife.”

“Our customer teams contest the Nürburgring 24 Hours with a completely new driver line-up, to continue the fight for Porsche’s 13th overall victory with the 911 GT3 R,” said Pascal Zurlinden, Director Factory Motorsport. “The later date of this year’s race means that weather conditions at the world’s most demanding racetrack are expected to be quite different to previous years. Given the lower number of entries and a strong GT3 contingent in the SP9 category, I’m anticipating a 24-hour sprint.”


Ferdinand blogs my freelance adventure with Porsche at the centre. To support the blog or engage with me in other ways, you can:

Porsche flies the Austrian flag at Le Mans 2020

Porsche flies the Austrian flag at Le Mans 2020

Today is the start of the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans. Like so much of life in 2020, this year’s motorsport season has been a challenge but it’s good to see racing at La Sarthe.

Porsche is fielding several entries in the GTE-Pro and GTE-Am categories. Leading the charge are the factory RSRs, numbers 91 and 92. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Stuttgart’s first win at Le Mans is the 91 car, painted in the red and white Porsche KG Salzburg racing colours of the Austrian national flag. The 92 car runs an identical livery, with black replacing the red.

Porsche drivers for Le Mans 2020

Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni share the wheel of number 91, with Frédéric Makowiecki supporting. This partnership has previously achieved two second-place finishes. In the sister car are the reigning World Endurance Champions: Michael Christensen and Kévin Estre, supported by Laurens Vanthoor, defending champion of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. This trio won the event last time out with a 911 RSR presented in Pink Pig livery, so the factory enters the race with its best foot forward.

About the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours

Racing at the 13.6km Circuit des 24 Heures is the highlight of the World Endurance Championship every year. Normally run in mid-June, this year’s race was postponed until September due to the coronavirus pandemic. The three-month postponement means different weather and light conditions.

“The fact that Le Mans is being held in September this year will have a huge impact on the race,” said Richard Lietz. “It gets dark earlier on Saturday and light much later on Sunday. We’ve never experienced such a ratio between day and night before at this 24-hour classic. What’s more, we’re facing very changeable weather. All of this promises an extremely thrilling race. Our tests in the lead-up to Le Mans went well and class victory is our clear goal.”

The 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours is the latest RSR’s first time at the world’s greatest long-distance circuit race. Cancellation of pre-race testing threw an additional spanner in the works. Most of the racetrack is public roads and conditions can change year to year, as hundreds of trucks and cars drive over the famous Mulsanne Straight daily on their way from Le Mans to Tours. The team had to set up the cars based on previous experience and this initially did not work out too well.

“We had a lot of work to do in first practice, as the setup that we’d worked out in advance didn’t really work at first,” said Alexander Stehlig, Head of WEC Operations for Porsche. We made many changes so that the drivers could get more comfortable with the handling of the car. Things went significantly better in the second practice session. We made it into the Hyperpole, but qualifying fifth and sixth there was not good enough.”

Things went much better in Hyperpole, as the number 91 car claimed pole position. Italy’s Gianmaria Bruni set the fastest lap at the wheel of the 91 Porsche 911 RSR with a time of 3:50.874 minutes. Michael Christensen claimed sixth place for the number 92. In GTE-Am, works driver Matt Campbell was the fastest 911, claiming the second grid spot in his class with the No. 77 Porsche 911 RSR fielded by Dempsey-Proton Racing, a mere five one-hundredths of a second off the top time.

Where to watch the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours

The 2020 Le Mans 24-Hours starts at 13:30 UK time today. Watch the race on Eurosport, BT Sport or via the WEC app. I found a free stream last year somewhere so will probably dip in and out of that while kicking around in the garage. Lots going on here at home, with kids finally about to head back to uni and the builders on site.


Ferdinand blogs my freelance adventure with Porsche at the centre. To support the blog or engage with me in other ways, you can:

Think Fast: Porsche 911 GT3 R at the Nürburgring

Think Fast: Porsche 911 GT3 R at the Nürburgring

The 2005 US Grand Prix in Indianapolis came at the peak of the tyre wars between Bridgestone and Michelin. When Ralf Schumacher crashed during practice, Michelin picked up a problem and advised teams running its tyres not to race unless a pre-banking chicane was added, slowing the cars down and lessening the tyre loads.

Ferrari and the FIA vetoed the plan and all the cars came to the start grid. At the end of the warm-up lap, the Michelin cars pulled into the pits and retired. Six Bridgestone cars completed the race and F1 and Indianapolis canned their agreement.

Quick Thinking: The Grid Walk

Former F1 Driver , Martin Brundle, was the man chosen by ITV to develop the idea of a live TV “grid walk” before F1 race starts. Broadcasters had tried it before, but run-of-the-mill TV presenters were not the right people to get in the faces of drivers in the final tense minutes before lights out. Brundle blended his understanding of the pressures that came with the job, a good sense of humour and a lightning fast ability to think on the spot and became the de-facto gridwalk persona.

The 2005 US Grand Prix gridwalk is a great example of why Brundle has been so successful. In the midst of a media frenzy, he quizzes F1 boss, Bernie Ecclestone, at length, making several points on behalf of the fans without losing his cool. Brundle’s talent shines through when he asks the man who can famously arrange anything why this problem can’t be easily solved.

“Surely we just all need to take a sensible pill and then go motor racing?” says Martin. “Tell me where we can buy the pills,” replies Bernie, giving Brundle a playful dig. “Okay, we need to talk to Mrs Ecclestone,” Martin says: cheeky and quick all in one.

Thinking fast under pressure is common skill in racers. The speed of change on a racetrack means that most reactions to an emerging situation must be assigned automatically, living sufficient conscious capacity to make quick, confident decisions when faced with a series of options.

Of course, the skill is not always full developed and we often see things going wrong when a lesser decision plays out. But unforgettable moments are made when a champion driver focuses their ability to think fast and run against the odds, pulling off something that rails against our instincts.

Think Fast: when events are coming at you quickly, how good is your ability to react effectively?

One such moment was made at this year’s Nürburgring 24-Hour. After leading the early part of the race, Manthey Racing’s lead 911 had a puncture and was forced down the order. When Kévin Estre took over the sister car, he set a series of incredible laps, pulling more than twenty seconds back on Dirk Müller’s Black Falcon Mercedes.

Eventually the cars were line astern and fighting hard for the lead. The Porsche’s pace was mighty: Estre picked up the slipstream on Dottinger Hohe and decided now was his time. As the leader drifted left to lap a backmarker, Estre calculated that the verge would be dry. Putting two wheels on the grass and not lifting the throttle, he swooped to the lead.

The team of Estre, Christensen, Bamber and Vanthoor stayed in front until a five-minute time penalty for missed yellow flags put the Porsche out of contention. Having led the race for 105 of 157 laps, the Manthey car was forced to settle for second position. Two weeks after the ADAC Total Nürburgring 24-Hours, the number 911 car was retrospectively disqualified by DMSB officials. Manthey issued the following statement:

“The engine in our inspected #911 car complied with all the key points of the homologation. The only thing that was not consistent with the prescribed 2 x 34.6-millimetre diameter of the restrictor, which was the size we used, was the performance value calculated by the ADAC technical committee. We must accept that we did not check the plausibility of the value calculated by the organiser, neither on the test bench in Weissach nor on our chassis dynamometer in Meuspath. We accept the judgement and will not lodge an appeal.”

Disqualified from second place – does anyone really care about that? Winning is a statistic: proof you existed. But writing a move like this into the culture of motorsport is proof that you lived. Long after people have forgotten the winner of the 2019 Nürburgring 24-Hour, they will remember this pass, and Kévin Estre. So far, it’s the Porsche move of the year.

Ferdinand blogs my freelance adventure with Porsche at the centre. To support the blog or engage with me in other ways, you can:

Simona de Silvestro is the first female Porsche works driver

Simona de Silvestro is the first female Porsche works driver

Porsche has announced Simona de Silvestro as its first female works driver. Announced alongside Thomas Preining as test and development driver for the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E team, de Silvestro and Preining will carry out simulator work in Weissach as well as attending select Formula E races. The two drivers will also be available to the team for in-season testing. 

Born on September 1st, 1988 in Thun, Switzerland, the 31 year-old de Silvestro brings useful single seater experience to the team. Her career began with a drive for Cram in Italian Formula Renault before she moved to Formula BMW USA, scoring five podiums on her debut season. Several seasons in Toyota Formula Atlantic followed, with a 2008 win at Long Beach followed by an excellent run in 2009, where she took three wins and led the championship for much of the season, eventually finishing third overall.

Simona made her IndyCar debut in 2010 and was crowned Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, starting P22 but eventually finishing 14th overall. 2011 saw a fastest lap at Sao Paolo in a crazy race where she was criticised for racing the leaders as they made their way through the pack. De Silvestro was nine laps down after an early accident with another driver – perhaps if the leaders were quick enough, they should have just breezed past.

The uncompetitive 2012 HVM Lotus left her with little pace to challenge for wins. A switch to Team KV IndyCar in 2013 brought a podium in Houston: Simona becoming only third-ever woman to stand on the IndyCar podium. In 2014, she came to Formula 1 as a member of the Sauber team under the guidance of Monisha Kaltenborn, but the agreement ended early as financial issues led to the team terminating the relationship. In truth, Sauber had royally screwed up their driver arrangements for the year, ending up with five drivers under contract and one driver taking them through the courts. The team was eventually sold.

In 2015m, Simona raced for Andretti in IndyCar, finishing P4 in New Orleans and inside the top twenty at the 99th Indy 500. Later that year, she made her Formula E debut in London. She stayed with Andretti for the 2016 Formula E season, becoming the first (and so far only) woman to score points in the series. She has spent the last three years racing Nissans in Australian Supercars but is excited to return to single seaters with Porsche.

“It is a great honour to work for this prestigious brand,” said whoever wrote the PR for Simona. “I am really looking forward to my new role as test and development driver for the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team. Over the last few years, I have gained a lot of experience from my previous involvements in Formula E. I will do my best to help Porsche on the road to success.”

After several disappointing seasons apparently through no real fault of her own, joining the Porsche team is a good opportunity. Simulator work is key – hopefully she can outpace young Preining in the virtual car and earn a run in competition. However, as a former Carrera Cup Deutschland champion and a contracted Porsche Young Professional with three top four GTE-AM finishes to his name as part of Gulf Racing, the 21 year-old Preining is already well established with Porsche as a hot shot on his way to the top.

It’s going to be tough for Simona to chip away at that level of embeddedness, but I hope she gets more than token attention at Weissach. As the dad of three daughters and having worked with several capable female competitors over the years, the gender imbalance in motorsport is shameful. It’s about time Porsche had a woman in their driver lineup: there’s room for more women in the supervisory boards also.


Ferdinand blogs my freelance adventure with Porsche at the centre. To support the blog or engage with me in other ways, you can: