By Cindy Timmer
On 6th and 7th February, the renowned French show Le Jumping International de Bordeaux will play host to the Final of the 15th season of the FEI World Cup™ Driving, one of the highlights on the international equestrian calendar, for the fifth time in a row. Six of the world’s best four-in-hand drivers representing four nations have earned their tickets to what is set to be a breathtaking event. The qualification phase of the series took place over seven legs held between November 2015 and January 2016. Six-time FEI World Cup™ Driving champion, Boyd Exell (AUS), who competed in six out of the seven legs and who won five of them, is once again the hot favourite to conquer the much coveted FEI World Cup™ Driving champion 2016 title.
Boyd Exell (AUS)
Reigning World Cup and World Four-in-Hand Driving champion Boyd Exell, who was awarded with the Reem Acra Best Athlete Award last November, won the legs in Stuttgart (GER), Madrid (ESP), Geneva (SUI), Mechelen (BEL) and Leipzig (GER) and finished second behind IJsbrand Chardon (NED) in London Olympia (GBR). The only competition he did not compete in this season was Stockholm (SWE), since that event took place the same weekend as the new competition in Madrid. Exell got wild-cards for London Olympia (GBR) and Leipzig (GER) and competed for points at the other events, gathering the maximum number of points a driver can get by winning all of them. The Australian and his horses are in top form and are the favourites to claim the title once again.
IJsbrand Chardon (NED)
Silver medallist in Aachen 2015 and winner of the FEI World Cup™ Driving Final in 2005 (with Michael Freund, GER) and again in 2006, Ijsbrand Chardon won the qualifiers in Stockholm and London Olympia and finished second behind Exell at the first Leg in Stuttgart. Chardon finished third in the previous Final in Bordeaux and has put several horses to the test during the season to decide on the best set-up for his team in order to beat his long-time rival, Exell.
Koos de Ronde (NED)
Winner of the 2013 Final, Koos de Ronde finished second behind the nearly unbeatable Exell in Madrid and Mechelen and lined up third in Geneva and London Olympia. The bronze medallist at the FEI European Championships in Aachen 2015, he has been a finalist for many years and he also has several good horses to choose from to determine the best team for this year’s finale.
Michael Brauchle (GER)
Reigning European Champion Michael Brauchle only had to start at the last leg in Leipzig in order to qualify for the Final. Brauchle finished second in Stockholm, fourth in Leipzig and fifth in Mechelen, collecting enough points to qualify for the Final for the first time in his career.
Jérôme Voutaz (SUI)
Dreams are coming true for Jérôme Voutaz who qualified for the FEI World Cup™ Driving season 2015/2016 at the last minute after two colleagues withdrew from the standings. Voutaz competed before with a wild-card in Geneva and it took him and his four-in-hand of Freiberg horses some time to get used to the very different arenas and courses on the World Cup circuit. After taking third place in Madrid and sixth place in Geneva, it all came down to his performance in Leipzig. Voutaz caused a huge surprise by putting down an excellent performance and finished second behind Boyd Exell. Since Exell competed with a wild-card, Voutaz got the full 10 points and qualified for the Final during his very first World Cup season.
Georg von Stein (GER)
A member of the silver medal winning team at Aachen 2015, Georg von Stein took part in four competitions and had one wild-card start. After finishing fourth in Stuttgart and Stockholm and filling fifth spot at London Olympia, the German driver turned his focus to the last event in Mechelen. Like last year, he gave it everything he had and finished third which was good enough to secure his ticket to the Final. During his last wild-card start in Leipzig it did not come together for the 2014 German Champion, so he will be even more eager to finish in the Top Three in Bordeaux.
The wild-card for the FEI World Cup™ Driving Final 2016 was allocated to French driver and marathon specialist Sébastien Mourier. Mourier competed with a wild-card in Geneva in December, where he amazingly finished second behind Exell. It is the second time in a row that the 36-year-old driver competes at the FEI World Cup™ Driving Final with a wild-card.
Like in 2015, Dan Henriksson of Sweden has been appointed the Course Designer for the FEI World Cup™ Driving Final 2016. He has been responsible for the course of the Stockholm leg from the series’ onset in 2001 and also built the courses for the Finals in Gothenburg from 2002 to 2007 and in 2009.
The Jack Pemberton trophy
Honorary FEI Bureau member, Jack Pemberton (CAN), has generously donated the trophy which is awarded to the winner of the FEI World Cup™ Driving Final. The first Jack Pemberton trophy was presented to Australia’s Boyd Exell after the 2012 Final. Jack 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 over 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 FEI World Cup™ Driving Final in 2012, 50% of the score differential between each driver and the leading driver from the first competition on Saturday evening converted into seconds will be carried forward by that driver into the competition on Sunday. Scores from the first round on Sunday will be carried forward by the qualified drivers into the drive off.
FEI Photo Catalogue: Free images for editorial purposes available at www.feiphotos.org
Boyd Exell and his horses are in top form and are the favourites to claim the title once again. Photo: FEI/Eric Knoll.