Reigning champion Boyd Exell (AUS) stamped his supremacy once again on the current FEI Driving World Cup™ series by winning the 7th leg in Mechelen.
Video of the round below.
Despite being pushed hard by the other drivers whose horses are on peak form at this stage of the season, he rose to the occasion and produced another flawless display in Saturday night’s drive-off to shave 3.43 seconds from his previous round’s time and end on 126.57. As he has shown time and time again, when the pressure is on, he raises his game even higher to ensure he is the one at the head of the prize ceremony.
“The team is really smooth. We put a substitution in, the left wheeler was Poker who is 19 years old, and he was fantastic tonight. Every stride, we had to work hard to get the speed and when Bram did a really fast round, we had to go full risk through the number one cone. The more pressure, the more focussed I get. I’ve got a great team of people around me; it’s a full team, driving sport. So, I’m really pleased – it’s a great feeling!”Boyd Exell (AUS)
Challenging him all the way was Bram Chardon (NED) who, although quicker in both Saturday’s rounds, had one ball in each to add four which in the drive-off meant he finished a tantalizing 1.73 behind Boyd. Despite missing Friday’s drive-off, by Saturday he and his horses were back to their razor-sharp ways, and it was so nearly their night.
Both former champions might have feared that neither would win as Germany’s Michael Brauchle blasted through the course during his first round on Saturday to be the fastest going into the drive-off. Fresh from a confidence-giving Friday afternoon when only Boyd beat him, Michael’s horses darted round the turns and sped along the straights to challenge the best. But perhaps they had peaked too soon as despite producing another impressive drive, they were down on time and added four to finish third.
Like Michael, another who has moved into finals contention is Dries Degrieck (BEL) who raised the hopes of the home crowd. An off-form initial round on Friday saw him finish seventh, but he regained his edge on Saturday and produced a decent clear. He will also be in Leipzig (GER) for the 8th leg as a qualified driver so has a chance to consolidate his ranking position.
Already sure of his finals place, Koos de Ronde (NED) was a wild card entry who didn’t make either drive-off. A rebuild bell ring on Friday after knocking a cone before it had been driven added fourteen to an otherwise great time and although he was in touch on Saturday, it wasn’t enough to ensure a return to the arena for one more round.
Having recorded a season’s best result of second on Friday after a beleaguering series, Jérôme Voutaz (SUI) lost out by overshooting a gate in one of the marathon obstacles which meant a costly stop and rein-back. He and the horses recovered well but with the competition is so tight at this point, there is no come-back from even the slightest of errors.
Glenn Geerts (BEL) has held his own throughout the season as a wild card and has completed his quota of qualifying events. Unfortunately, just as he picked up the pace to start his round on Saturday, the bell rang to halt proceedings as it appeared someone in the crowd needed medical attention. There followed a delay in the competition as Glenn left the arena to wait outside before being able to resume his round where three balls rolled to add twelve to the time.
Having built the courses in Stockholm and Geneva, Johan Jacob’s (NED) returned for the Belgium leg. Tucking pairs of cones next to the marathon obstacles and placing others on the curve, it was a technical course that required precision, set out in the relatively compact arena. Only Glenn didn’t knock any balls during Friday’s first rounds but after that, the drivers seemed to gain the measure of what was required.
In a display that seemed even more determined than usual, Boyd needed the win at this point in the series to set a marker for the final in Bordeaux (FRA). With only one more qualifying leg to go in Leipzig in three weeks’ time where he is a wild card, this was his last chance to secure 10 points to gain a maximum 30 to top the rankings. While Bram can match him if he wins the final 8th leg, both will be keen to open their bid for more World Cup titles with the psychological edge over their nearest rivals.
But whether Boyd is a wild card or not, he will be as fiercely competitive as ever at the German prelude to the final. For the first time in this series, Chardon father and son will line up against each other, joined by Michael, Dries and Georg von Stein (GER) as the qualified drivers; Koos and Mareike Harm (GER) complete the line up as wild cards. With everyone at the top of their game and margins slimmer than ever, it will be a thrilling event.