Until the last leg of the series, it looked like the contest for the next FEI Driving World Cup™ title would be between Boyd Exell (AUS) and Bram Chardon (NED). But after his first win in Leipzig (GER), Belgium’s Dries Degrieck has disrupted the old order and put himself into serious contention.
As defending champion and holder of an unprecedented ten FEI Driving World Cup™ titles, Boyd enters the final as the number one ranked Driver on a maximum 30 points. Before the first event in Lyon (FRA), he predicted that this would be a particularly close series – which is true, despite his dominance; from seven legs, he has won competition two five times. Add in another five competition one wins, and it is the Australian national anthem which has been most played during the award ceremonies.
As the second ranked driver on 27 points, two-time champion Bram won the fourth and fifth legs in Stockholm (SWE) and Geneva (SUI). Against the clock, his horses have been consistently fast and when the balls stay in place, they are hard to beat. He and Boyd were first pitted against each other at the second leg in Maastricht (NED) when they were both wild cards, so ineligible for ranking points.
Bram started out in front but an extra loop in the second drive-off meant he slipped to third and Boyd took the win. Next in Stockholm, a mistake from Boyd in the drive-off dropped him to third while Bram won. For their next clash after Christmas at the sixth leg in Mechelen (BEL), Boyd went clear to edge into first, and although Bram was faster on time he lost out on victory after a ball roll.
In Leipzig, the focus was fixed on the Boyd-Bram dynamic, but the event was boosted by the inclusion of all six drivers who had qualified for the final. However, the script did not play out as expected and the mind games took on a new twist. Boyd decisively won the opening competition while Bram didn’t make the drive off. The tables turned in the second competition when Boyd’s penalties put him out of drive-off contention.
The win was Bram’s to take as his horses seemed on unbeatable form, but a costly knock meant that Dries – who had been second in the opening competition – could make his quick, clear round one that marked a historic triumph. It was a deserving win for the talented Belgian who is only in his third FEI Driving World Cup™ series.
Competing at four qualifying events and taking no wild card tickets, Dries stated after Leipzig how proud he was of his horses. Not only are they relatively young in age for the series where it’s often older, more experienced horses that are used, but they are Dutch Warmbloods, whereas most of the specialist indoor teams tend to favour Lipizzaners.
Having been to many Finals and with the benefit of their wealth of experience, Dutch titans and previous champions Ijsbrand Chardon and Koos de Ronde will also be vying for podium places in Bordeaux. Third-ranked Ijsbrand is a perennial crowd favourite wherever the venue and is revelling in his son Bram’s success while being as committed to his own Driving as ever. He very nearly beat Boyd in London on an exciting Friday night – there was only a second between them – with Koos a close third.
Koos has recorded some impressive times during the series with his long-striding horses. The third leg in Stuttgart (GER), in a large arena with a galloping course, was nearly his until a slip in the water and loss of momentum dashed his hopes.
With a tactic of wider, flowing lines through the marathon-style obstacles, Koos remains a strong challenger for the top positions and achieved a confidence-boosting third in Leipzig against strong competition.
Germany’s Michael Brauchle is a Driver that the others monitor closely because he sets some of the speediest times. Always pushing for the most economic lines with his keen horses, when his rounds are free of mistakes, he is another who’s a contender for a podium finish. His highest placings were seconds in Maastricht and Stockholm.
Joining the starters in Bordeaux is the host nation’s wild card entry, Benjamin Aillaud (FRA) who also competed at the first leg in Lyon (FRA) in early November. The course will be built by Johan Jacobs (NED), who designed the Stockholm, Geneva and Mechelen courses. Returning as president of the ground jury is Anne-Marie Turbé (FRA), joined by Camille Eslan (FRA) as chief steward.
The Driving starts late on Saturday night and concludes on Sunday afternoon.
There is no drive-off after the first competition, but the positions set the running order for the following day. In the second competition, only the top three Drivers go into the drive-off and their scores from the previous rounds count towards the overall totals. Another difference between the Final and the qualifying legs is the accumulative scoring system whereby 50% of the difference between the Drivers and the leading score is carried over to the next competition.
After Leipzig, the title race is tighter than it has been for a long time but on balance, Boyd remains the favourite. Despite the recent result, he has shown throughout his career how defiantly he can bounce back and go on to take the big wins. Bram has also set his sights on his third FEI Driving World Cup™ title, helped by having one of the most cohesive teams of horses on the circuit.
But neither can be complacent because this time, there’s a high chance there will be a new name on the trophy.
Article courtesy of the FEI and written by: Sarah Dance