FEI Driving World Cup 2022/2023, written by Sarah Dance
Crown prince and reigning FEI Driving World Cup™ champion Bram Chardon (NED) set out on his crusade to retain his title in undisputed style in Geneva. Scorching past his rivals, he defiantly seized both rounds and his brilliant performance has injected another shot of excitement into an already electrifying 2022-23 series.
In this 5th leg, the next chapter in a gripping adventure so far, the ‘Hollywood for Horses’ setting of the 61st CHI Geneva was a fitting and festive backdrop for Bram’s first indoor outing since he beat Boyd Exell (AUS) in Leipzig (GER) in April. Without Boyd in the line-up, there was always going to be a new winner and the safe money was on Bram, especially after his opening round in front of a packed house on Saturday lunchtime, where he finished 15.06 ahead. On Sunday, despite a wobbly first round – by his standards – where he knocked a ball in obstacle four and missed taking a couple of loops on point, which put him into 2nd, his drive-off was so slick that his time of 152.45 was 4.68 seconds faster than his closest challenger.
“Last year I also had an incredible drive-off here in Geneva. Today, I made an unusual mistake in the first of the marathon obstacles in round one, so I made a change and then I was able to take revenge!
It is great to have the next generation of drivers here, although I am lucky to have my family around me, including my father (Ijsbrand Chardon) who is still in great shape, plus my five month old son, and my sister and mother.
But the fairy tale nearly didn’t turn out as expected and the narrative briefly arced in a different direction when Germany’s Michael Brauchle added a twist by improving so much between his bottom placing on Saturday, so starting first on Sunday, to going into the final drive-off as the fastest qualifier. Having clearly had an effective word with himself overnight and after making a few harness adjustments to his left leader who was strong, his speedy bay team, so keen and much more together than earlier in the season, produced an impressive first round. As he said afterwards, it wasn’t ideal opening the competition on day two, but conversely, he was able to take risks and put his foot to the floor without worrying about times clocked by the others – and it worked. Finishing in 2nd, after a clear in 157.13, he shaved over 3 seconds off his quick first run.
Another driver who found his form was Belgian Dries Degrieck, who in his second indoor season, states that for him it is still a learning curve, and he is building up his experience all the time. His Geneva was much more consistent than his other events in the series and the flat out gallop he was able to ask from his horses, which they gave him, while also being able to produce some of the tightest lines and turns of the two days, showed a new maturity coupled with boldness. As he prepares for the journey to England, he will surely be happy with his 2nd place on Saturday and 3rd on Sunday which seals his bid for a place in the final in Bordeaux (FRA).
One driver who must be asking what more he can do to match the winners is Glenn Geerts (BEL). His lythe bay horses were fit, eager and fast, and Glenn is on top form at the moment. Perhaps the long runs up and down one of the biggest arenas on the circuit, with the addition of a bridge and water splash, didn’t benefit his bouncy, high stepping horses, who didn’t have their usual impulsion along the final stretch through the last three obstacles of Jeroen Houterman’s (NED) flowing course. After a solid drive on day one to finish 3rd, he was just behind Dries after the first round on Sunday and missed out on a drive-off place which, on day two, is only for the fastest three.
Buoyed by an emotional and vocal home crowd, Jérôme Voutaz (SUI), with his Swiss Freibergers, was the Wild Card entry and another who did everything right, finding precise lines in the two marathon style obstacles, but was just off the pace in comparison to the others. He stated that the distances in the arena didn’t suit his horses quite so much, as they are compact and turn well, and tend to shine more over a course in a smaller area where different questions are asked. Finishing in 4th and 5th over the two days, he remained delighted with his team, while also keeping the audience totally engaged in the event.
Lady Luck didn’t favour outdoor whizz Chester Weber (USA) who wasn’t where he usually is in terms of placings. Juggling a transatlantic schedule and dividing his time between Florida and Europe, his indoor Lipizzaner horses are based for the season with the Chardons in Holland. As a strategist who thinks a great deal about factors like fitness, nutrition and training, he will hope to produce a sharper performance at their next outing.
The anticipation for the 6th leg in London (GBR) has reached boiling point, as Bram and Boyd will go head-to-head for the first time this series. Bram’s muscular and compact grey Lipizzaners, with plenty of fuel in their tanks, will be up against Boyd’s lean and primed equine maestros, who have an additional supersonic speed when the pressure is on. Both teams operate as a homogenous unit, from the ends of their noses to the tips of their tails, and both drivers have a hawk-like focus and hunger for victory that must be sated.
And both know what it takes to win – so who will it be?