IJsbrand Chardon won the seventh FEI World Cup Driving 2011/2012 qualifier held in Leipzig in Germany at the weekend. © Rinaldo de Craen/FEI
IJsbrand Chardon, who had won the Hannover qualifier earlier this season, made great use of the invitation he had received from the Leipzig organisers and put on an excellent performance with his experienced team of Lipizzan horses. Chardon stole the show in the nearly sold-out Leipzig Messe, driving fast and taking sharp turns on the tricky course, designed by Dr Wolfgang Asendorf (GER).
"For me it was important to drive one very good competition after Mechelen," Chardon said. "I am very pleased with my horses now and I am ready for the final. Boyd Exell is the top favourite to win in Bordeaux, but I certainly think there are three other drivers who are able to challenge him, including myself."
Four-time world champion Chardon had not been pleased with his horses after the last qualifier in Mechelen (BEL) at the end of December and had trained his horses three times a week in the lead up to the event.
In the first round, Chardon had an unnecessary knock down which made him finish three seconds behind Eriksson, who had driven the only clear round. Chardon gave everything he had in the winning round, which took place over a shortened course. By driving sharp and fast turns, Chardon achieved a clear round and a very fast time which Eriksson was unable to beat. After 2007 and 2009, this year's victory was Chardon's third at the Leipzig fixture.
The competition was Tomas Eriksson's last chance to qualify for the Final. The double world champion drove an excellent clear round and knew he had secured a place among the top three and thus a spot for the final as soon as he passed the finish line with his team of Swedish warmblood geldings. In the winning round, Eriksson missed a shortcut to the last gate of a marathon obstacle, which cost him precious seconds. He also knocked two balls down, but this did not jeopardise his second place and his ticket to the final.
Second wild card driver Christoph Sandmann had fond memories of Leipzig, where he won the FEI World Cup Driving Final with a wild card in 2008. Sandmann, for whom this was his only World Cup start of the season, used his team of outdoor horses. Cheered by the enthusiastic crowd, of whom all drivers say it is the best in the world, Sandmann qualified for the winning round and was very pleased with his third place.
Sandmann did not compete very frequently in the 2011 outdoor season as he had lent his horses to his daughter Anna and his stable manager Carola Diener, both of whom competed successfully at the FEI World Driving Championships for Pairs in Conty (FRA) last summer where Diener won individual gold. After the FEI World Driving Championships for Four-in-Hand 2012 on home soil in Riesenbeck, Sandmann will retire as an active driver. He won his first gold team medal at the World Championships in Riesenbeck in 1992 and feels it is time to hand over the reins to his daughter.
Zoltan Láazár had one knockdown which prevented him from qualifying for the winning round. But the Hungarian driver was very pleased with his fourth place, which meant he is sixth in the overall series standings, thus securing a spot in the final. Theo Timmerman (NED) was just a second short from beating Láazár. The Dutch driver was fifth, which put him in seventh place in the standings, just out of the top six.
German driver Georg von Stein started to enjoy this season's FEI World Cup Driving once he had received the wild card for Leipzig. After some problems on the first day, Von Stein made some changes to his team but this unfortunately was not enough for a great performance. The riding instructor finished in seventh position, behind his compatriot Rainer Duen.
The German drivers will now concentrate on the outdoor season with the FEI World Driving Championships for Four-in-Hand on home soil as the highlight. One of their goals is to also qualify for the 2012/2013 season of the FEI World Cup Driving.
Standings after 7 of 7 events, Top 6 drivers qualified for the Final:
1 Boyd EXELL AUS 30
2 IJsbrand CHARDON NED 24
3 Koos DE RONDE NED 24
4 Tomas ERIKSSON SWE 22
5 Jozsef DOBROVITZ HUN 15
6 Zoltan LÁZÁR HUN 15
7 Theo TIMMERMAN NED 12
8 Rainer DUEN GER 8
Georg VON STEIN GER 8
10 Werner ULRICH SUI 6