The eyes of the equestrian world will be set on the French city of Bordeaux this weekend for the exciting FEI World Cup Driving Final.
Six top four-in-hand drivers have qualified after eight thrilling events and they all have good chances to be crowned the season’s champion. The World Cup points accumulated throughout the season will not be taken into consideration and the drivers will start with a clean sheet.
World Cup champion from 2009 to 2012 and title defender Boyd Exell (AUS) was victorious four times this season, two of which while competing with a wild card. With strong performances at Hannover (GER), Stuttgart (GER), Geneva (SUI) and London-Olympia (GBR), Exell took the lead of the standings just ahead of Dutch drivers IJsbrand Chardon and Koos de Ronde, both of whom managed to beat Exell once and who are breathing down his neck.
As the season progressed, the differences in points between the drivers kept decreasing making the competitions incredibly exciting. A difference of only a few seconds could mean the first place or the fourth.
IJsbrand Chardon beat Exell in Budapest (HUN) and was well on his way to do the same in Mechelen (BEL) when his carriage tipped over. Chardon and his Lipizzaner horses form a solid and fast team, which gives the four-time World Champion the confidence to go for victory in Bordeaux. He won the FEI World Cup Driving Final in 2005, but had to share the title with Michael Freund (GER) since they had finished on an equal number of points. The system changed the next season and Chardon claimed the champion’s title in 2006.
After a slow start in Hannover, Budapest and London Olympia, Koos de Ronde nearly missed his chance to qualify for the final. But his decision to change a horse in his four-in-hand turned out to be the right thing to do and gave De Ronde his faith and the all-important winning rhythm back. He won the qualifier in Mechelen, but since he was competing with a wild card, he did not receive the much needed World Cup points. His last chance to make it to the final was in Leipzig (GER), which turned out to be a true thriller of a competition. De Ronde barely made it to the Winning Round but drove clear and won, earning the precious points.
Tomas Eriksson (SWE) is under a lot of pressure. The successful Swedish driver is relying on his performances in the series to attract the support he needs to continue competing internationally. Eriksson has been part of the series since it began in 2001 and has made it to the final on several occasions. He had a good 2012/2013 season with two second places in Stockholm (SWE) and Geneva and two third places in Hannover and Leipzig. Eriksson is a strong opponent and will certainly try to challenge the Australian-Dutch dominance of the previous years.
Bordeaux 2013 will be the first FEI World Cup Driving Final in Theo Timmerman’s career. Timmerman (NED) had a season with ups and downs with two superb second places in Budapest and London Olympia as well as two disappointing results in Stuttgart and Geneva. At Olympia, only wild card driver Boyd Exell could beat him, which meant that Timmerman scored the full 10 World Cup points which secured his qualification for the Final.
Jozsef Dobrovitz (HUN) had a season with mixed results. From his runner-up placing in Leipzig to his sixth place in Mechelen, and everything in between, Dobrovitz did it all. The Hungarian driver had to battle it out until the very last moment in Leipzig to ensure a starting place for the final. When Dobrovitz needs to perform, he certainly goes for it and that is what makes him a dangerous opponent whose presence guarantees an exciting competition. He has qualified for the final for the fifth time and has just as much chance to make it to the podium as any of his five challengers.
The wild card for the final 2013 has been allocated to French driver Thibault Coudry as has been the case in previous years. Coudry also competed with a wild card in Geneva in December where he placed fourth. In 2010 he impressed by winning the World Cup competition, in 2011 he came in fourth and in 2012 he finished in seventh place.
Honorary FEI Bureau member Jack Pemberton (CAN) has generously donated the trophy which is awarded to the winner of the Final. The first Jack Pemberton trophy was presented to Australia’s Boyd Exell in 2012. Pemberton, who chaired the FEI Driving Committee form 1995 to 2003, has been involved with the FEI since 1968 and has made a huge impact on equestrian sport. He has been part of more than 20 equine associations in his life. He was made a life member of the British Horse Society and the Canadian Combined Driving Association. In 2007 Jack Pemberton was the inaugural recipient of the Equine Canada Lifetime Achievement Award.
According to the scoring system introduced for the final in 2012, 50% of the score differential between each driver and the leading driver from the first competition on Friday evening converted into seconds will be carried forward by that driver into the competition on Saturday. Scores from the first round on Saturday will be carried forward by the qualified drivers into the drive off.