Billed as the first ‘Clash of the Titans’ since Leipzig’s (GER) final in April, the question on all lips was, ‘Who would win in London – Bram or Boyd?’ Fresh from victory last weekend in Geneva (SUI), Bram Chardon (NED) knew that his first appearance as a competitor in London would be a challenge, and trying to break Boyd Exell’s (AUS) incredible run this season would be tough. But how close he came.
While Boyd produced the winning round in the final drive-off on Saturday night with a score of 147.89, it was Bram who had the fastest time of 142.05, 1.84 seconds ahead. Whereas Boyd had one ball down to add four, Bram rolled two balls and added eight, which was enough to push him into 2nd place. But with Boyd as the Wild Card entry, alongside British driver Daniel Naprous, Bram was able to take the full 10 points for the ranking table so after only two events, now sits in 3rd, surely securing his place in Bordeaux (FRA) and a chance to defend his FEI Driving World Cup™ title.
“I am a few runs behind the other guys, and I think I need one or two more shows. I am happy how the horses moved and that they showed an extra gear, so I am really pleased with the time. And it was great to be competing in London for the first time!” – Bram Chardon
Challenging closely over the three days of Driving in London was an on-form Koos de Ronde (NED), who, like Boyd, was the only one of the seven drivers to be a finalist at each of the three competitions – something unique to London. Precise and positive from start to finish, he said that he thought he was as close as he has been all season to a win, but admitted that perhaps he pushed a little too hard at the end and added an expensive 12 penalties to his time of 147.9. Like Bram, he tallied valuable ranking points and will, with only two more legs to go, surely be another cert for the final. A firm favourite with the crowd, his loyalty over the years as a regular competitor at the popular pre-Christmas show, Koos was rewarded by a groundswell of voluble support which must have helped propel him and his horses into a suitably speedy sphere.
Dries Degrieck (BEL), who was in drive-off territory in the prelim round on Thursday afternoon, after a good Geneva, couldn’t quite keep up with the pace and with only three drivers forward for the drive-off in competition one, missed out on his chance to go again. As did a much-improved Chester Weber (USA), who was more assured than last weekend, his rounds being more fluid with less faults to add. His Lipizzaner horses are based for the season with the Chardons in Holland, so Chester made the most of walking the course alongside Bram and their collective match play experience must have benefited them both.
Getting used to his new, svelte bay Lusitano horses, Benjamin Aillaud (FRA), a consummate horseman and trainer, stayed in the bottom half of the order but will come away from London pleased with the improvement that the combination has made, not only over the three days, but the series as a whole. Whether they have done enough to in a qualification place for the final remains to be seen, but there is always the chance that as a French athlete, he may gain a Wild Card place in Bordeaux.
Juggling his Wild Card slot with providing dare-devil riding entertainment at the show, Daniel Naprous admitted that as a driver who might only appear once in the series, he is a little rusty. Despite the lack of match practice in comparison to his compatriots, his times were perfectly respectable and with his notoriety in the film business, remains a crowd-pulling favourite. Admitting that he would love to compete in the series as a qualified driver, the logistics for Dan to attend enough European based events to gain the points and results are prohibitive.
In contrast to the capacious arena in Geneva, the smaller dimensions of the ExCel venue create an intimacy that really involves the family-based crowd, who are so close to the action. It also requires a different approach when trying to save time on the turns and lines, as opposed to the fast running and ground cover which comes with a bigger space.
A designer who confesses to building his courses by feel and instinct, Jeroen Houterman (NED) has created five of the six courses so far this series and has managed to ask something new of the drivers each time, tailoring his layouts to suit the place, the equipment available, and that unique ‘je ne sais quoi’ that makes these events so magical.
Next up is Mechelen (BEL), just after Christmas. Then, for the final leg in Leipzig, all the big guns will be out. Not only will they be securing their Bordeaux places, but they will also be marking their cards as to where they would like to be in the final order. Can Boyd maintain his peak performance? Had Bram gauged his ascent correctly? Or will Koos and Ijsbrand release their full potential and upset the order? We can’t wait to see!